HUFFINGTON POST
03/22/2011 01:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dental Hearing Aid Approved In Europe

About 250 million people worldwide -- over 4 percent of the world's population -- suffer from hearing impairment. And according to the Deaf Action Center, only 5 million out of 25 million people in the U.S. who need a hearing aid actually use one.

Why the discrepancy? Could be that many shy away from the stigma of having a hearing aid, or are ashamed to call attention to their impairment. Well, a new invention could make a difference.

A hearing aid that transmits sound via your teeth has just been approved in Europe, reports the BBC. (The U.S. Federal Drug Administration approved it back in January).

The device, called SoundBite, is primarily designed for people who are deaf in one ear. It attaches to the upper molars (left or right) and once in place is barely visible. However, the typical hearing-aid look isn't completely tossed aside; the device on your teeth "communicates" with a small microphone in your ear. The small ear mic picks up sound from your surroundings and transmits them wirelessly back to the device in your mouth, providing the ability to hear spatially.

How is this different?

Typical hearing aids use air conduction, a method that employs the middle and outer ear to increase sound volume. The dental hearing aid uses bone conduction, an entirely different approach that directs sound vibrations from the bones in the skull to the inner ear. Bone conduction is believed to effectively simulate the natural hearing experience that takes place in the ear.

While most people looking for a basic hearing aid won't need the SoundBite, notes Engadget, the device may be a boon for those essentially deaf in one ear looking to regain their spatial hearing ability without wanting to undergo surgery.