The tooth is a major component of the vertebrate feeding apparatus and plays a crucial role in species survival, thus subjecting tooth developmental programs to strong selective constraints. However, irrespective of their functional importance, teeth have been lost in multiple lineages of tetrapod vertebrates independently. To understand both the generality and the diversity of developmental mechanisms that cause tooth agenesis in tetrapods, we investigated expression patterns of a series of tooth developmental genes in the lower jaw of toothless turtles and compared them to that of toothed crocodiles and the chicken as a representative of toothless modern birds. In turtle embryos, we found impairment of Shh signaling in the oral epithelium and early-stage arrest of odontoblast development caused by termination of Msx2 expression in the dental mesenchyme. Our data indicate that such changes underlie tooth agenesis in turtles and suggest that the mechanism that leads to early-stage odontogenic arrest differs between birds and turtles. Our results demonstrate that the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate early-stage arrest of tooth development are diverse in tetrapod lineages, and odontogenic developmental programs may respond to changes in upstream molecules similarly thereby evolving convergently with feeding morphology.