New hearing device conducts sound through teeth

1:45 PM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - A big dinner around a crowded table can be a frustrating experience for those who can only hear out of one ear.

It can be tough to hear who is talking, but now there's a new, non-surgical hearing device that may help.  And it's worn in the mouth.

Alissa Montzka, 17, of Forest Lake, is deaf in her left ear, something her parents have known since she was four after she tried to talk to a cousin on the phone.

"She wouldn't respond.  We'd ask her, 'Say something, Alissa. You know, your cousin is talking to you.' Finally she handed the phone back and said, 'My ear doesn't work,'" Alissa's dad Tim Montzka said.

But now a SoundBite has changed her life. 

"It's pretty weird.  My dad whispered to me from across the room and I could hear him," Alissa said.

SoundBite is the name of this new, discreet device actually worn in the mouth.  It's made by Sonitus Medical. 

Audiologist Kate Puls of Ear, Nose and Throat Specialty Care of Minnesota and Minnesota Hearing Aid Professionals said, "It fits like a retainer behind the upper back molars."

How does it work?

A behind-the-ear microphone unit transmits sound wirelessly from a little microphone placed inside the deaf ear to the device worn on the teeth. Sound is then sent through the bone to the inner ear of the good ear.

"Our teeth are a natural conduit because they are attached to our skull.  So that vibrates the sound into our skull," Puls said.

Alissa said SoundBite is comfortable. Wearing it, she said she can locate sounds better.  She also hears a difference playing piano.

"I can hear the bass clef better. It sounds different and so I can hear the balance better and I know when I'm playing too loud with my left hand," she said.

And turning her head is no longer required when her parents have something to say.

"We're glad this technology came out," Tim Montzka said,

 The SoundBite device is only for patients with single-sided deafness and conductive hearing loss. 

 It costs $6,800, but is covered by some insurance plans. 

 It can be worn while eating.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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