Gizmo takes bite out of hearing loss

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Collaboration among multispecialty scientists at George Washington University has produced a novel device to help those with single-sided deafness or SSD.

Dentistry Today published an article in the December 2012 edition about the Soundbite device, which holds promise for those with SSD.

Single-sided deafness is occasionally present at birth but can be caused by ear infections, trauma or other events that physically harm the hearing capacity of the ear. People with SSD have difficulty locating the direction sound is coming from.

This translates into everyday problems such as determining from which direction a car is approaching, hearing conversations in a crowded room, or understanding someone talking from the hearing impaired side. (SSD should not be confused with the more common selective hearing disorder, which occurs with some frequency in men receiving instruction from their wives during football games).

Sound is conducted through vibration by two methods: through the air, as you know, and through bone, which you may not know. If you are old enough to remember the “good old days” of dental treatment, the dentist used a drill that was powered by a foot pedal.

This little beauty rattled and shook while it toiled, sending vibrations from the jaw to the skull. I like to think that perhaps those days inspired this invention, which uses the principle of bone conduction/vibration to restore hearing.

There are other devices that function using bone conduction as a means of enhancing vibrations; The Baha Cochlear implant and the Ponto by Oticon Medical. These have the disadvantage of needing to have a minor surgical procedure to place a small implant behind the ear. The implant is then connected to an external hearing assist device.

People seeking treatment for single-sided deafness would first visit their physicians or audiologists for a diagnosis. If they are a candidate for the Soundbite hearing device they would receive a prescription and visit their dentist, who would ensure the health of their teeth and gums with an examination and dental X-rays.

At the dental office, impressions of the teeth would then be taken and the plaster of paris models shipped to Sonitus Medical for fabrication of the device. When the custom-made Soundbite is ready, the individual would see their audiologist for initial setup and instructions on use.

The Soundbite device requires at least two healthy top back teeth on the same side that has the hearing deficit. Fillings or crowns on these teeth won’t diminish the effectiveness of the sound conduction. The device is custom formed to the teeth much like a partial denture or an orthodontic retainer.

Is it safe for your teeth? A short-term study in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found over a six-month period that there was no increase in gum or supporting bone problems.

The biggest potential problem from a standpoint of your teeth is neglecting to remove the appliance and thoroughly clean the teeth and Soundbite device after each meal or snack. Lack of cleaning will lead to cavities!

Advantages over other implanted hearing assist devices such as the Cochlear implants by Baha and Oticon Medical:

The Soundbite system requires no implant to be placed.

The process requires no modification of a person’s teeth.

The device is purported to function well, even in noisy environments.

The device is supposed to capture sounds of a broader range than existing competitors, particularly in the higher frequencies.

The creators of Soundbite claim it is comfortable, allowing the wearer to eat, drink and chew normally. It does seem, however, that your appreciation of food would take on a whole new dimension, as the sounds of chewing would likely be magnified. Rice Krispies anyone?

This is a new technology that brings together different medical and dental specialties to help individuals improve their quality of life. Find out more at www.sonitusmedical.com.

Dr. Eric Gustavsen practices dentistry at Southpoint Dental Center, 1129 S. Second Ave. More information on his practice can be found at www.southpointdentalcenter.com.

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