WINTER PARK, Fla. - Hearing loss can happen to anyone, no matter what their age is.
But now, new, groundbreaking technology in Central Florida is helping patients hear again -- without surgery or expensive hearing aids.
It's called the SoundBite Hearing System -- and it's sort of like something you'd see in a sci-fi flick.
The secret is that it lets you hear everything through your teeth.
Local 6 recently spoke to a young mother using the technology. Tasha Smith says that losing her hearing made her feel helpless.
"It kept getting worse and worse and worse with each passing year," says Smith. "It's problematic for other people because you have to keep asking them, 'What did you say?'"
Over the course of six years, Smith's hearing slowly failed in her left ear -- a condition called Single-Sided Deafness.
Because the nerves in her ear died, hearing aids wouldn't help.
"Over the years I just lived with it. I compensated very well," says Smith.
But today, she doesn't have to compensate, thanks to the SoundBite system.
It's two parts -- a small piece you put in your bad ear that's almost impossible to see. And a receiver you clip onto your molar -- sort of like a retainer, or dentures.
Sound enters your bad ear and is transmitted to the mouth piece. Though micro-vibrations in your teeth, that sound is then bounced up to your good ear.
Basically, patients are hearing everything on their right side -- but it still sounds like it's coming through both ears.
"There's no way to get that nerve to come back once it's gone, but we can kind of trick the brain into thinking it's hearing from both sides," says Dr. Aftab Patni, an otologist at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates in Winter Park.
Patni is the only physician in Central Florida currently using this technology. He says that Single-Sided Deafness is so dangerous because patients can't tell where sound is coming from anymore.
"If you hear a car screeching, you don't have that cue to know, it's right behind me, it's in front of me, it's on the side of me," says Dr. Patni.
But now, thanks to SoundBite, which has only been around less than two years, Patni says that patients are getting a big part of their lives back.
"Initially, they're just surprised that something on your teeth can help you hear," says Dr. Patni. "People have been very happy with the sound quality."
Smith is one of those people. She can eat and drink with the mouthpiece in, and says that she feels like a new woman.
"My relationships are better because I can talk to somebody and carry on multiple conversations," says Smith. "(It) helps me at work, helps me at home, it's just helped me all around."
Technically, the SoundBite is a hearing prosthetic, and not a hearing aid.
Doctors say that's because a lot of health insurance plans won't cover hearing aids, but they will cover prosthetics.
Doctors also tell Local 6 that it only takes a few weeks for patients to get fitted for the SoundBite and to get used to it.
At night, both pieces can be removed and charged, like a smartphone.
To learn more about the SoundBite Hearing System, there will be a free, educational seminar on Thursday, September 12 at 5 p.m. at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates office at 133 Benmore Drive in Winter Park. Representatives from SoundBite will be there to show off the technology, and answer questions.
You can also get more information about the SoundBite Hearing System by visiting the website for The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates by clicking here.
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