Suppose there’s a new treatment for a specific kind of deafness, and this treatment can’t happen without you, the dentist. But there’s a vicious cycle at play preventing all the parts from hooking up and delivering the appropriate patient care.
Would an ENT physician ever admit to being intimidated by a new product because it meant that they’d have to partner with a dentist to deliver the treatment? Are they afraid of their own ignorance about dentistry?
Why then, out of thousands of ear, nose, and throat physicians, audiologists, and other hearing specialists, are only a handful of clinics offering what looks like to be a breakthrough product? Currently about 70 medical practices are listed at the Sonitus website. If you exclude the 13 practices in New York and the 9 in California, that means that the rest of them are scattered around the country at an average of less than one per state.
Can you imagine if you were the only dentist in your entire state who was working with an audiologist?
Physician referrals sometimes make for the best patients. I mean, the patient trusts their doctor already. It’s easy for the patient to transfer that trust to you, especially if you’re partnering with that person.
Admittedly, this is looking at the situation from a dental-centric side: what’s in it for you. Right?
New patient flow aside, let’s go to the patient, the problem, and the product for a moment.
The patient: usually younger than the average person needing a hearing aid. As young as eighteen; average age? Mid-forties.
The problem: single-sided deafness. One ear works pretty well, the other one, pretty badly. Having hearing only in one ear can be more devastating than you might imagine. While not as difficult as total deafness, single-sided hearing loss means that the “good ear” must be turned towards the sound origin which can result in loss of eye contact when listening to conversations, having to choose seating where no one will be able to sit next to the patient’s “bad ear,” dysphoria related to sound confusion, and many other issues which affect quality of life.
The product: It really is called…. wait for it…
Beautiful. Here’s how it works:
The receiver reminds me a little bit of those old Nesbit spider partials that dentists no longer seem to make because of the fear that they will be swallowed. No sharp pointy pieces to snag in the gut, however. Um… yay?
So for those who are candidates for the SoundBite, what other options do they currently have? How about a titanium implant? Boy, that rings a bell (Ha! audiology humor). Seriously, for about $10,000 a titanium fitting is surgically implanted into the bone behind a patient’s deaf ear and a sound processor is attached to it which sends vibrations into the skull. Another option is to wear a microphone in the deaf ear and the receiver in the other one. But audiologists say that patients who can hear normally in one ear really have a problem with anything impeding the healthy ear’s function and definitely don’t want to wear two hearing aids.
It’s not a perfect solution due to the changes some users have noticed with eating and speaking, but those who have been fitted with the SoundBite have been extremely happy with the improvement in their hearing and feel like the small inconveniences are totally worth the life-changing effects of their new device. Imagine! The microphone picks up the sound of fingers snapping in a deaf ear, and the transmission through the tooth tricks the brain into thinking it’s hearing again! The cost is upwards of $6000, and batteries must be kept charged and changed after eight hours of continuous use.
Don’t you want to help now? Of course you do. You can click over to the SoundBite website, read this information for dentists, and even sign up to become a provider. But I have a better challenge. There’s probably an ENT or audiologist in your own zip code. Let them know that you’ve read up on this product, you might have even watched the video below, and that you would love to work with them to help patients manage their hearing loss. They won’t do it without your interest.
Hygienists already know all about this sound conduction. Just ask anyone who regularly uses ultrasonic scalers if patients hear a “feedback” tone that is very, very loud when the distal of the upper left molar is cleaned. It might happen with other dental techniques as well, but since I’m not down in the roots or cutting enamel off of teeth as regularly as I screech along the gumlines of able-eared people, I don’t know.
As a patient, though, I don’t hear this ultrasonic wail any more. Last time I had my teeth cleaned the tone was gone, as I suspected it would be. And that is the whole reason for even discovering the SoundBite.
I happen to be one of those patients with single-sided deafness; my hearing disappeared suddenly, with no known reason. I awoke one morning with a roar in my left ear. I thought that this new horrendous white noise was the problem, it was so loud, I figured it would go away soon enough, so I tried to ignore it. When it didn’t, and then I made the shocking discovery when I turned my right ear away from music that it faded away…well, that’s when I realized I needed a specialist. It wasn’t just tinnitus; it was the absence of sound. And it sucked, like a vacuum cleaner. Literally.
Even though the bad news from my ENT was that the hearing was diminished and not likely to come back, the good news was that it wasn’t gone completely. I started searching for solutions, just in case I did go totally deaf in that ear, and that’s when I discovered that my very own dentist! my employer! could! help! me!
When you think about it as a professional, isn’t this awesome?
I’m thankful to still have a decent amount of hearing in my bad ear, and despite the fact that noises are garbled and tinny-sounding, I’m going to do my best without a SoundBite for the moment. However, there are many, many patients out there with total ear deafness that could benefit from one. All they’re missing is a dentist who can take a good impression.
And that’s my throwdown.