The teeth of sharks famously form a series of parallel, continuously replacing files borne directly on the jaw cartilages, in contrast to the site-specific, dermal plate-borne dentition of bony fishes. A major obstacle in understanding how this system evolved is the poorly understood relationships of the earliest chondrichthyans and the profusion of morphologically and terminologically diverse bones, cartilages, splints and whorls that they possess. Here we use tomographic methods to investigate mandibular structures in several early branching acanthodian-grade stem-chondrichthyans. We show that the dentigerous jaw bones of disparate genera of ischnacanthids are united by a common construction, being growing bones with non-shedding dentition. Mandibular splints, which support the ventro-lateral edge of the Meckels cartilage in some taxa, are formed fr om dermal bone and may be an acanthodid synapomorphy. We demonstrate that the teeth of Acanthodopsis are borne directly on the mandibular cartilage and that this taxon is deeply nested within an edentulous radiation, representing an unexpected independent origin of teeth. Many or even all of the range of unusual oral structures may be apomorphic, but they should nonetheless be considered when building hypotheses of tooth and jaw evolution, both in chondrichthyans and more broadly.
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