Hypothesis: A new intraoral bone-conduction device has advantages over existing bone-conduction devices for reducing the auditory deficits associated with single-sided deafness (SSD).
Background: Existing bone-conduction devices effectively mitigate auditory deficits from single-sided deafness but have suboptimal microphone locations, limited frequency range, and/or require invasive surgery. A new device has been designed to improve microphone placement (in the ear canal of the deaf ear), provide a wider frequency range, and eliminate surgery by delivering bone-conduction signals to the teeth via a removable oral appliance.
Methods: Forces applied by the oral appliance were compared with forces typically experienced by the teeth from normal functions such as mastication or from other appliances. Tooth surface changes were measured on extracted teeth, and transducer temperature was measured under typical use conditions. Dynamic operating range, including gain, bandwidth, and maximum output limits, were determined from uncomfortable loudness levels and vibrotactile thresholds, and speech recognition scores were measured using normal-hearing subjects. Auditory performance in noise (Hearing in Noise Test) was measured in a limited sample of SSD subjects. Overall comfort, ease of insertion, and removal and visibility of the oral appliance in comparison with traditional hearing aids were measured using a rating scale.
Results: The oral appliance produces forces that are far below those experienced by the teeth from normal functions or conventional dental appliances. The bone-conduction signal level can be adjusted to prevent tactile perception yet provide sufficient gain and output at frequencies from 250 to 12,000 Hz. The device does not damage tooth surfaces nor produce heat, can be inserted and removed easily, and is as comfortable to wear as traditional hearing aids. The new microphone location has advantages for reducing the auditory deficits caused by SSD, including the potential to provide spatial cues introduced by reflections from the pinna, compared with microphone locations for existing devices.
Conclusion: A new approach for SSD has been proposed that optimizes microphone location and delivers sound by bone conduction through a removable oral appliance. Measures in the laboratory using normal-hearing subjects indicate that the device provides useful gain and output for SSD patients, is comfortable, does not seem to have detrimental effects on oral function or oral health, and has several advantages over existing devices. Specifically, microphone placement is optimized for reducing the auditory deficit caused by SSD, frequency bandwidth is much greater, and the system does not require surgical placement. Auditory performance in a small sample of SSD subjects indicated a substantial advantage compared with not wearing the device. Future studies will involve performance measures on SSD patients wearing the device for longer periods.