The fossil group Placodermi is the most phylogenetically basal of the clade of jawed vertebrates but lacks a marginal dentition comparable to that of the dentate Chondrichthyes, Acanthodii and Osteichthyes (crown-group Gnathostomata). The teeth of crown-group gnathostomes are part of an ordered dentition replaced from, and patterned by, a dental lamina, exemplified by the elasmobranch model. A dentition recognised by these criteria has been previously judged absent in placoderms, based on structural evidence such as absence of tooth whorls and typical vertebrate dentine.
However, evidence for regulated tooth addition in a precise spatiotemporal order can be observed in placoderms, but significantly, only within the group Arthrodira. In these fossils, as in other jawed vertebrates with statodont, non-replacing dentitions, new teeth are added at the ends of rows below the bite, but in line with biting edges of the dentition. The pattern is different on each gnathal bone and probably arises from single odontogenic primordia on each, but tooth rows are arranged in a distinctive placoderm pattern. New teeth are made of regular dentine comparable to that of crown-gnathostomes, formed from a pulp cavity. This differs from semidentine previously described for placoderm gnathalia, a type present in the external dermal tubercles.
The Arthrodira is a derived taxon within the Placodermi, hence origin of teeth in placoderms occurs late in the phylogeny and teeth are convergently derived, relative to those of other jawed vertebrates. More basal placoderm taxa adopted other strategies for providing biting surfaces and these vary substantially, but include addition of denticles to the growing gnathal plates, at the margins of pre-existing denticle patches. These alternative strategies and apparent absence of regular dentine have led to previous interpretations that teeth were entirely absent from the placoderm dentition. A consensus view emerged that a dentition, as developed within a dental lamina, is a synapomorphy characterising the clade of crown-group gnathostomes.
Recent comparisons between sets of denticle whorls in the pharyngeal region of the jawless fish Loganellia scotica (Thelodonti) and those in sharks suggest homology of these denticle sets on gill arches. Although the placoderm pharyngeal region appears to lack denticles (placoderm gill arches are poorly known), the posterior wall of the pharyngeal cavity, formed by a bony flange termed the postbranchial lamina, is covered in rows of patterned denticle arrays. These arrays differ significantly, both in morphology and arrangement, from those of the denticles located externally on the head and trunkshield plates. Denticles in these arrays are homologous to denticles associated with the gill arches in other crown-gnathostomes, with pattern similarities for order and position of pharyngeal denticles. From their location in the pharynx these are inferred to be under the influence of a cell lineage from endoderm, rather than ectoderm. Tooth sets and tooth whorls in crown-group gnathostomes are suggested to derive from the pharyngeal denticle whorls, at least in sharks, with the patterning mechanisms co-opted to the oral cavity. A comparable co-option is suggested for the Placodermi.