We compared initial and final bone histomorphometric findings in 66 osteoporotic patients treated with sodium fluoride (NaF) according to three regimens, and in 7 osteoporotic patients who did not receive NaF. Fourteen patients received continuous NaF 75 mg/day (high-dose) with calcium 1500 mg/day for a mean of 41 months. Twenty-six patients received continuous NaF 50 mg/day (low-dose) with calcium 2000 mg/day for a mean of 15 months, either with (10 patients) or without (16 patients) vitamin D. Twenty-six patients received cyclical low-dose NaF, alternating with vitamin D, for a mean of 15 months and a total treatment duration of 28 months, of whom 14 were and 12 were not on NaF at the time of the second biopsy. Disregarding differences between regimens, there were significant increases in total and mineralized bone volume and trabecular thickness and nonsignificant decreases in these measurements in the control group. Fluoride-induced bone formation was exclusively appositional with no evidence for the creation of new trabeculae. The effect of low-dose NaF on bone structure was the same when the same total dose was given continuously or intermittently, and when the patient was or was not taking vitamin D. The increases in total and mineralized bone volume but not trabecular thickness were greater with high-dose than with low-dose NaF. Low-dose NaF caused modest but significant increases in all osteoid indices, and modest but significant declines in adjusted apposition rate and osteoid maturation rate and no change in bone formation rate. With high-dose NaF, the increase in BV/TV was greater but all indices of osteoid accumulation were much higher and all indices of impaired osteoblast function and mineralization were much lower, and 12 of 14 patients had some form of osteomalacia. This occurred also in 3 of 30 patients treated with low-dose NaF who were not taking vitamin D; the mean increase in osteoid thickness was significantly greater in these patients than in 22 low-dose patients who were taking vitamin D. We conclude: (1) The inconsistent effect of NaF in increasing bone strength is partly due to failure to restore connectivity in patients with severe bone loss and partly due to substantial osteoid accumulation. (2) Even low-dose NaF causes impaired osteoblast function, but this is much greater with high-dose prolonged therapy. (3) There is an unexplained discrepancy between the increase in bone formation implied by increases in spinal bone mineral and the lack of increase in bone formation measured histomorphometrically. (4) Defective mineralization is more closely related to the total cumulative dose of NaF than to the duration of treatment, and with low-dose treatment may be preventable by vitamin D. (5) Future clinical trials should be carried out with smaller doses of NaF and before there has been substantial loss of horizontal trabeculae in the spine.