USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Tongue Tied

Photo by Nate Jensen

Though Roop Mayall DDS ’18 has spoken with a stutter her entire life, she didn’t let it stop her from pursuing a career in dentistry.


Standing at a busy restaurant counter during the lunch rush, Roop Mayall approaches the cashier to place her order.

“Name for the order, please?” he asks.

She opens her mouth to say her name, but she can’t make a sound. She begins to feel the heat of anxiety build inside of her.

The cashier repeats himself, “What’s your name, Miss?” he asks.

She tries again to say her name but is overwhelmed and entangled in her own words.

After what feels like an eternity and with a sea of people waiting behind her to order, she is finally able to produce the word, “Roop.”

One of three million

Situations likes these are not at all uncommon for people who struggle with speech disorders.

Three million Americans suffer from a stutter, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Fourth-year Ostrow DDS student Roop Mayall is one of them.

“For as long as I can remember, I have had a stammer,” she says. “Anything from public speaking to simple interactions with people to saying my name has always given me extreme anxiety.”

Growing up in Davis, Calif., Mayall always knew she sounded different than other kids, but fortunately she had a supportive group of friends and family, so it never bothered her.

“As a child, I never let my stutter get to me personally,” she says. “I first felt the negative impact of my stutter in college. I felt an enormous pressure to hide my stutter. That’s when I started avoiding my friends and family.”

“At some point, your circumstances will put you at a crossroads between self-acceptance and self-doubt — just don’t let your limitations keep you tied down.” 

—Roop Mayall DDS ’18

As Mayall became older, she started to realize how her speech inadvertently caused others to judge her in both personal and professional settings.
“It was one of those unfair truths,” Mayall says. “Almost every speaking situation was clouded with negative emotions, from briefly introducing myself to participating in school presentations.”

Stuttering became a great source of anxiety, and her avoidance tactics were starting to fall short.

“It was simply exhausting,” she explains. “It took more energy to avoid situations than to actually deal with my stutter.”

Just breathe

From a young age, Mayall remembers going to various speech pathologists but says that, while they all had the best intentions, their interventions never worked for her.

With the support of her family, Mayall enrolled in the McGuire Programme in high school.

The McGuire Programme is a worldwide community that helps participants overcome stuttering using breathing and other techniques.

“It’s not a cure by any means, but rather an amazing support system,” she says.

The program teaches a breathing technique used by opera singers called “costal breathing.” It also incorporates psychological approaches known as “non-avoidance” and ways to counteract the freezing during speech or conversation.

“I still have days when I’m struggling with my speech, but now I know what I must do, and I have tools to make that change,” she says. “To me that has been life changing.”

This story originally appeared in the TroDent, the official publication for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Read more stories like this in our Spring 2018 issue.



Posted May 2018