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New hearing loss device works without surgery

When Maxine Kessler lost complete hearing in one ear four years ago, she avoided a surgical procedure to implant a rod in her skull that would help her hear. Now she’s able to hear again thanks to a new nonsurgical device that picks up sound vibrations from her deaf ear and transmits them to her good ear via a device that fits inside her mouth around her back teeth.

“I can hear very well from that ear,” said Kessler, whose sudden hearing loss was caused by an autoimmune disease. “But I can’t tell where the sound is coming from.”

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Unlike hearing aids which amplify sound and typically aren’t covered by insurance, the device, called SoundBite, is covered by some insurance plans, though usually with a copayment. Kessler said she paid $600 for the fitting procedure and device and has yet to hear from her insurance company, Harvard Pilgrim, about whether she’ll get a refund or will be billed for an additional amount.

Dr. Kenneth Grundfast, who fitted Kessler with the device at Boston Medical Center, said he’s so far had good results with most of his patients. “Some complain about hearing feedback if they use a Bluetooth device, and they tell me it takes time to get used to having the device in their mouth, that they can feel it with their tongue.”

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