Dr. Tarek El-Bialy has been awarded a $1-million US research grant to look at using ultrasound and stem cells to regenerate the roots of teeth. ((CBC))

A University of Alberta dentistry professor has received a $1-million US grant to continue his research into restoring damaged dental roots using ultrasound and stem cells.

"When we get to the point that we can stop teeth root degeneration by ultrasound only, that would be great," he said. "If it happens, then we can use the stem cells together with ultrasound to regenerate the degenerated [teeth]."

Dr. Tarek El-Bialy was awarded the three-year grant by the Qatar National Research Foundation and will work with the Queen Dental Centre in Doha, Qatar.

El-Bialy, an associate professor of orthodontics and biomedical engineering, was in the news four years ago after his research into using ultrasound to regenerate teeth was made public.

His earlier study showed that low-intensity pulsed ultrasound, applied to teeth for 20 minutes a day for four weeks, massages the gums to stimulate jaws, thus encouraging growth in the roots of teeth and aiding healing in dental tissue.

The device El-Bialy subsequently developed helps prevent further degeneration of dental roots. With the new research grant, he plans to study how a patient's own oral tissue stem cells can aid regrowth of roots.

The work is particularly important for people who wear braces, which can cause root degeneration, he said. If the research is successful, the treatment could also help people suffering from bone loss due to gum disease.

El-Bialy's grant application was peer reviewed by five experts, the University of Alberta said in a news release.

"In my first application, I didn't realize the five reviewers were internationally recognized researchers from recognized institutes all over the world," El-Bialy said.

El-Bialy said he hopes that the three-year research grant will allow him to take his research to a stage where he can start clinical trials on people.