SoundBite offers non-surgical device for deafness in one ear

DJR_07262013By Michaela Gibson Morris
Daily Journal

When one ear doesn’t work, you may be able to hear through your mouth.

ENT Physicians of North Mississippi has become the first center in the state to offer the SoundBite, a non-invasive device that uses bone conduction through the jaw to help people with single-sided deafness.

“It gives you options,” said Rhonda Sage, clinical audiologist with the Tupelo-based practice.

People with profound hearing loss in one ear typically have trouble hearing conversations in crowded or noisy spaces, Sage said. It can be socially isolating for many people.

It also can affect a person’s ability to tell what directions sounds are coming from, because they have only one point of reference.

“We’ve had people have accidents,” because they couldn’t hear what direction a car was coming from, Sage said.

More than nine million Americans are affected by single-sided deafness. It can be caused by a number of factors including trauma, damage to the bones around the middle ear, Meniere’s disease and diseases like meningitis and measles.

How it works
The SoundBite has two pieces. A small behind-the-ear hearing aid with a small microphone sits in the deaf ear. It transmits to a mouthpiece worn over two upper molars.

“It’s kind of like a retainer,” Sage said.

The vibrations in the jaw reach the cochlea of the healthy ear and are processed by the brain. Clinical trials for the SoundBite showed an improvement in being able to follow conversations in noisy spaces and determine the direction of sound.

“People adjust to it pretty quickly,” Sage said.

Bone conduction has been a fairly effective treatment for people with single-sided hearing loss, especially compared to conventional hearing aids that amplify sound.

“People traditionally have not done well with cross hearing aids,” Sage said.

Before the SoundBite received FDA approval in 2011, the Baha – bone anchored hearing device – was the only option for adults and children with single-sided hearing loss. It requires a minimally invasive procedure to implant a very small titanium screw into the mastoid bone behind the deaf ear. After the healing process, a small hearing aid is attached to the screw. The vibrations picked up by the hearing aid, travel through the skull to the healthy cochlea.

However, some patients aren’t candidates for surgery or aren’t comfortable with the risks of surgery. When SoundBite was approved, the ENT Physicians of North Mississippi got a number of inquiries, Sage said. At that point, patients had to travel to Atlanta for the device.

“That’s why we decided to offer it,” Sage said. “It’s clinically proven to advance patient care.”

Who’s eligible
Right now, the SoundBite is approved for people 18 and older. In addition to having a working cochlea, the key is having adult molars in place, Sage said.

“You need to have two molars together,” Sage said.

It will not work with dentures, but it will work with dental implants, Sage said.

Patients will need to go through hearing screening and an exam to determine if they are candidates for the device, Sage said.

The SoundBite costs about $8,000. The surgically implanted Baha costs about $25,000. Unlike conventional hearing aids, most medical insurance will cover bone conduction hearing devices because they consider them prosthetics.

North Mississippi ENT works with Saltillo dentist Neal Martin, who has the specialized training to do the dental molds for the SoundBite, Sage said.

It takes about four weeks to complete the process, compared to about six weeks to heal after the surgery for a bone-anchored device.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com