A new implant designed to produce sounds through bone vibrations is giving new hope to the hearing impaired.

Doctors at a London, Ont., hospital have begun tests on the latest generation of hearing implants called the Bonebridge, an implant surgically embedded under the skin and into the temporal bone.

An external microphone worn under the hair captures sound and sends it to the implant, which transforms the noise into vibrations. The vibrations are transmitted to the inner ear, where they are processed into natural sound.

The device, recently approved in Canada for clinical use, is designed for people who have hearing loss in the middle and outer ear.

Older versions of the bone conduction device were considered too bulky, and required a metal hook to anchor the external microphone to the scalp.

The updated device uses wireless technology and links the internal and external components using magnets.

Kelly Dickson, a 51-year-old nurse at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont., has become the first person in North America to receive the innovative device.

As a child, she developed chronic ear infections required multiple surgeries to repair her eardrums. In spite of all her treatments, her hearing gradually got worse.

Testing out her device two weeks after the surgery, Dickson said she is delighted that she can now hear clearly for the first time.

“I’m hearing almost everything,” she said.

Dickson’s surgeon Dr. Sumit Agrawal told CTV News the device is useful for hard-of-hearing patients who are unable to wear a standard hearing aid or are not candidates for a cochlear implant.

“Cochlear implants are for inner ear hearing loss and those are people who are usually severely to profoundly deaf so we completely replace their natural acoustic hearing with electrical hearing,” he said. “Here, we’re actually giving people natural acoustic sound. We’re just giving it through the bone of the skull.”

Agrawal said the device is also less visible, which is considered a benefit to people who are self-conscious of their hearing aid.

“Here it’s going to be completely hidden within her hair, so people won’t even know that she has a hearing impairment,” Agrawal said of Dickson.

The device is covered by the Ontario Health Plan and costs between $3,000 and $5,000.

Marshall Chasin, an audiologist with the Canadian Academy of Audiology said the device is “one more tool to our toolbox.”

An estimated 3.5 million Canadians have some form of hearing loss, with about 350,000 of them considered so impaired they are deaf in one or both ears.

The number of patents in the hearing industry is “growing by leaps and bounds” as audiologists try to find better ways to treat the hearing-impaired, Chasin said.

“We’re getting closer to a correction,” he said. “We’re not there yet, I’m not sure if we’ll ever get there, but we are certainly going in that direction.”

With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip