What was this cool ENT doctor test?

I was at the ENT doctor today complaining of the feeling of fluid deep in my ear canal. He did a lot of quick tests (much more than my GP would have done) and asked a lot of questions about how things felt.

He did two quick “hearing” tests. One was rubbing his fingers together 6" away from each ear (I could hear that fine). Then he took a tongue depresser and rubbed it against my two front teeth and asked if I could hear the sound it made in both ears. I said no, it was much louder in the right (non-fluidy) ear. So then he scheduled me for a hearing test.

Having had ear problems my whole life, I’ve seen a lot of ENTs and they always seem to have cool new tricks and tests. This tongue depresser thing was pretty cool. But what exactly did it tell him?

A WAG here, but I think the rubbing of the front theeth is to see if you can hear sounds conducted through the bones of your head as compared to sounds carried only through the air.

Correct. Hearing problems can be either neurological, or a problem with the conductive system (eardrum, bones attached to it, etc). If you can hear vibration passed through the bone, then neurologically you are OK.

I never heard of the tongue-depressor against the teeth. I’d always seen it done by pressing the base of a vibrating tuning fork to the bony ridge right behind your ear, which a person with neurologically healthy hearing should perceive as a rather loud tone.

Yes, that is the reason for the test. Bone conductance should carry the sounds to your inner ear, bypassing the middle ear (eardrum, hammer/anvil bones). An audiologist might use a tuning fork to perform the same test, placing it against a bone in the midline of your skull (sometimes forehead, or nose, or the top of the head). If one ear sounds louder than the other, it indicates hearing loss (but oddly, the “loudest” ear is not always the “good” ear). The name of the test is the “Weber” test.