Tooth development involves bud, cap, bell and hard tissue formation stages, each of which is tightly controlled by regulatory molecules. The aim of this study was to identify genes that are differentially expressed during dental hard tissue differentiation. Sprague-Dawley rats at postnatal days 3, 6 and 9 were used in the analysis. Differential display RT-PCR (DD-PCR) was used to screen differentially expressed genes between the 2nd (root formation stage, during mineralization) and 3rd (cap stage, before mineralization) molar germs at postnatal day 9. The DNA detected in the 2nd molar germs showed homology to osteonectin only (GenBank accession no. NM_012656.1). The level of osteonectin mRNA expression was much higher in the 2nd molar germs than in the 3rd molar germs and was found to increase in a time-dependent manner from the early bell stage to the root formation stage in the 2nd molar germs. The pattern of osteonectin protein expression was consistent with these RT-PCR results. Osteonectin protein was found by immunofluorescent analysis to localize in odontoblasts and preodontoblasts rather than the dentin matrix itself. Further studies are needed to validate the involvement of osteonectin in mineralization and root formation.