Speech therapy student Melissa Verdel wants to help people. That’s why she chose to study at the Fontys Paramedical School, because “communicating is something you do every day and if you can’t do it well enough, your life is going to be incredibly difficult”. Verdel wants to ‘cure’ people with innovation. At the beginning of her fourth year at Fontys, her Mouth Game won the Think Bigger Prize. It’s a game that makes speech therapy less boring.
“I didn’t expect it at all, I never win anything”, Verdel confesses. The Fontys Think Bigger jury also praised her entrepreneurship. As she puts it herself: “If I want something, I will always just go for it. I don’t mind going to strangers if I need information, or to use my network.” That’s exactly what she did while trying to build her game. “I got the tip to talk to someone from the engineering department. That’s where my first prototype came from.”
During the second year of her studies, she and a number of others were involved in a project in which they had to come up with an innovation for speech therapy, says Verdel. “Then we came up with this idea and in a week’s time we worked it out.” That idea makes boring speech therapy treatments more fun for children. And that’s important, because about 75 percent of children develop incorrect teeth, partly due to abnormal oral habits such as keeping the tongue low in the mouth, explains Verdel. “You want to get that tongue against the palate, hence our Mouth Game.”
Making a puppet jump with your tongue
A mouth bit with a sensor at the bottom registers when you hit your palate with your tongue. This sensor is in Bluetooth connection with an app. “On this app, children can see that a puppet, for example, jumps when they hit that sensor with their tongue. This way they play a game, which makes it more fun to practice. Now, for example, children have to ‘click’ their tongues a hundred times a day. Of course, when you’re six, seven or eight years old, that’s incredibly boring.”
If you keep your tongue low in your mouth, you get a narrow palate and your jaw stays narrow. Later on, you may require medical intervention to make the jaw wider, says Verdel. “If you hold your tongue high against your palate, the jaw will form ovally around your tongue. Then you automatically get a wider jaw.”
Another advantage of the tongue high up in your mouth is that you automatically breathe through your nose. Divide: “When you breathe through your nose, you heat the air, which is better for your throat and lungs. And your nose hairs remove dirt. With your tongue low in your mouth, you’ll breathe through your mouth sooner.”
Also for your speech, it is better to learn to keep your tongue high. “When you swallow with your tongue between your teeth, you get a gap between your teeth. Those teeth don’t grow any further because the tongue is between them. Then you get a different set of teeth, with which the sounds of the s, z, d, t, l, n can’t be made well enough. Children can then start lisping.”
The idea remained on the shelf for a year. Until Verdel, in her third year of study, thought: I really want to get on with it. She consulted her fellow students. “Due to circumstances, they could not participate in the further development. So I started working on it myself. A lot has happened since then.” She made contact with the Centre for Entrepreneurship, with lectorates and with teachers. And so, together with Fontys Engineering, she made the first prototype. When she saw on the Fontys website that you could apply for the Think Bigger prize, she thought: Why not? There were 22 entries: 13 students and 9 employees. She won the students’ prize.
“The prototype works, but it’s not yet safe enough to put it in someone’s mouth. There is also no app yet.” These are her next steps. “I noticed that things can go very quickly. As with that prize. I won it on Monday and a few days later I already had connections that offered their help. My idea is out in the open now and that’s very nice.”
Verdel finds it exciting and she is looking forward to further developments. Especially the contact with the professional field. “The contacts with speech therapists who give this treatment are crucial. What do they run into? What can I help them with? They have to start using it. To offer an addition to your profession, that’s really cool.”
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