The dentition is a segmental system whose evolution and morphology bears analogy to the evolution of segmentation in the vertebral column and limb. Combinatorial expression of members of the large "Hox" class of homeobox regulatory genes has been shown to play an important role in positional specification in these skeletal systems. This raises the possibility that homeobox genes are also used for positional specification in the dentition, and several homeobox genes are known to be expressed in developing teeth. To identify additional dentally expressed homeobox genes, cDNA from from murine tooth germs at 9.5, 14.5, and 17.5 days gestational age was amplified by PCR using sets of degenerate primers to the homeodomains of 18 different classes of homeobox genes. Amplification products were cloned and sequenced and compared to known gene sequences. To date this approach has confirmed the presence of Msx1, Msx2, Dlx1, and Dlx2, and identified several other homeobox genes not previously known to be expressed in teeth: Dbx, MHox, and Mox2A, plus an a additional Dlx gene, Dlx7. The Msx and Dlx genes are the best current candidates for a combinatorial mechanism that controls the differentiation of structures within and between teeth, and perhaps also the evolution of those structures.