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This Is What Your Gross Tongue Looks Like When You Talk

MRI videos of the insides of people’s mouths and bodies are kind of gross, but represent important breakthroughs in medicine.

by Samantha Cole
Apr 27 2018, 12:00pm

Screenshot via YouTube

Ever want to take a long look at the inside of someone’s mouth while they’re speaking? Me neither, but thanks to a series of videos posted to YouTube by the Max Planck Society in Germany, we can.

The European Patent Office nominated physicist and MRI pioneer Jens Frahm at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry as one of the three finalists for its European Inventor award, in the field of research. In the mid-1980’s, over a decade after the MRI was developed, Frahm invented FLASH MRI, a faster way to view what’s going on inside our bodies. In 2010, he and his team developed FLASH2, speeding the imaging up to real-time.

To celebrate their recognition, the institute released a handful of real-time MRI films of people speaking and singing. You can see the lips, tongue, soft palate, and larynx moving together to form words, all in German. It’s weird!

They also posted a video of a thorax, which is somehow less unsettling than the ones of the inside of a person’s head. Like the “Pink Trombone” mouth simulator, the mouth videos are deeply, inexplicably disquieting. Watching the inner workings of something most people do so naturally every day is just too close for comfort. If I start thinking too much about how my tongue feels while I talk, I’ll probably develop some serious speech anxiety.

Gross as they are, these videos serve a higher purpose in the medical field, beyond weirding me out on YouTube. Real-time MRI technology makes it possible to directly observe things like joints, speech, swallowing and heartbeats. Observing and diagnosing from the outside helps doctors treat ailments like heartburn or chest pain without more invasive techniques.