Health Beat: Chew on this! Hearing device for the mouth

Published: Apr 18 2013 05:25:49 AM EDT   Updated On: Apr 17 2013 05:41:15 PM EDT
Hearing device for mouth

Thirty-six million adults in the U.S. report some degree of hearing loss. Now, there's some hearing help coming from an unexpected place.

Studies show that one in five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one, but a new device could revolutionize how you hear.

Mia Tavan has 80 percent hearing loss in her right ear. She said people sound like "wah wah wah" and "can tell there’s sound, but the inner ear nerves are fried and can't translate sound."

Now, she has a new hearing device on her tooth. The Soundbite is helping her hearing.

"Through vibrations, the patient hears it in their better ear," explained Susan M. Kelleher, an audiologist at Boston Medical Center.

Tavan's bad ear is fitted with a microphone that wirelessly transmits sound to a device on her tooth. Those vibrations travel through her skull bones and are picked up by the inner part of her good ear. The bone conduction technology gives her the perception that she can hear in both ears.

"As long as the hearing in the good ear is near normal, patients with bilateral or hearing loss in both ears are not good candidates," said Kelleher.

Tavan said the Soundbite, which hooks over her ear, has improved her quality of life. 

"Oh it's been amazing. It’s been absolutely amazing," she exclaimed.

The only downsides, Tavan said, are getting used to the device, occasional feedback, and making sure the batteries are charged.

There are other bone conduction devices out there, but they require surgery.  The Soundbite doesn't.

It is FDA-approved, but it's not typically covered by insurance and costs about $7,000.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Susan Kelleher about hearing through your mouth