by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
© March, 2010
You’ve all heard of sound bytes (short pithy chunks of speech), but this interesting hearing aid literally puts the bite on sound. That’s why they named it the SoundBite.
According to their web site, “Sonitus MedicalTM is pioneering the development of the world’s first non-surgical, removable hearing and communication solution that is designed to imperceptibly transmit sound via the teeth.”
Well, I’ve got news for their “hype writers”. Far from being the first, they are actually a “Johnny come lately”—489 years late to be exact. You see, hearing through your teeth is nothing new. Some of the earliest “hearing aids” were held in the teeth and thus transmitted sounds to the inner ear via bone conduction. There are published reports of such devices as early as A.D. 1521, although “dental hearing aids” did not become popular until Richard Rhodes of Chicago, IL patented and began selling his Audiphone in 1879. (That’s still 131 years ago!) Surprisingly, this Audiphone produced up to 35 dB of amplification.
Actually, using the teeth to transmit sound vibrations to the cochlea is not as strange as it might seem at first glance. The late Dr. Berger explained, “It may surprise some to learn that sound conducted through the teeth is a more efficient bone conduction route than that through the skull, particularly for low-frequency sounds.” So maybe the SoundBite’s time has come.
With the advent of the SoundBite, we have yet another acronym to add to the already prolific “alphabet soup” of hearing aids. Thus, in addition to BTE, ITE, ITC, and CIC hearing aids, we now have to add—ITM (in-the-mouth) hearing aids.
The Sonitus SoundBite is currently in clinical trials in the USA. It is being touted as a solution for people with single-sided deafness, and for those with conductive hearing losses. As such it would be another alternative to Cochlear’s Bone- Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) and Ear Technology’s TransEar bone conduction hearing aid.
The SoundBite consists of two parts. First, there is what looks like a traditional BTE hearing aid. The BTE portion contains the microphone and a tiny transmitter that wirelessly transmits the sounds it receives to what looks like an overgrown dental retainer that fits beside the upper molars. The in-the-mouth piece is custom fitted from tooth impressions made by your dentist (much as ear molds are custom made by your audiologist to fit your ears).
One side of the ITM piece houses the amplifier and tooth conduction vibrator while the other side contains the rechargeable battery. The SoundBite is custom fitted for either the left and right side of your mouth, depending whether your left or right ear has the hearing loss.
I don’t know whether I’d want to wear an in-the-mouth hearing aid, but you will shortly have that option.
Note: On February 9, 2015, Sonitus Medical closed its doors. I don’t know what will become of the SoundBite hearing aid, but assume it has gone the way of the Dodo bird.