Although features of the dentition figure prominently in discussions of early hominid phylogeny, remarkably little is known of the developmental basis of the variations in occlusal morphology and dental proportions that are observed among taxa. Recent experiments on tooth development in mice have identified some of the genes involved in dental patterning and the control of tooth specification. These findings provide valuable new insight into dental evolution and underscore the strong developmental links that exist among the teeth and the jaws and cranium. The latter has important implications for cladistic studies that traditionally consider features of the skull independently from the dentition. BioEssays 23:481–493, 2001. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.