Renal insufficiency is known to increase plasma fluoride levels, which may increase the risk of fluorosis and osteomalacia. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of fluoride on skeletal fragility and mineralization in renal-deficient animals. We evaluated the skeleton of rats with surgically induced renal deficiency (4/5 nephrectomy) that were chronically exposed to fluoridated water at concentrations of 0, 5, 15, and 50 ppm for a period of 6 months. The chosen fluoride doses caused plasma fluoride levels equivalent to those in humans consuming fluoridated water levels of 0, 1, 3, and 10 ppm, respectively. Animals with renal deficiency drank about 60% more water and excreted 85% more urine than control animals. Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was decreased 68% and plasma BUN was increased fourfold in rats with renal deficiency. Plasma fluoride was strongly correlated with 1/GFR and was greatly increased by renal deficiency in all animals consuming fluoridated water. There was a strong positive, nonlinear relationship between plasma fluoride and bone fluoride levels, suggesting nonlinear binding characteristics of fluoride to bone. The amount of unmineralized osteoid in the vertebral bone was related to the plasma fluoride levels. Vertebral osteoid volume was increased over 20-fold in animals with renal deficiency that received 15 or 50 ppm fluoride, suggesting osteomalacia. Should osteomalacia be defined as a tenfold increase in osteoid volume, there appeared to be a threshold plasma fluoride level of about 20 micromol/L, above which osteomalacia was observed consistently. This plasma fluoride level was not achieved in control rats regardless of fluoride intake, nor was it achieved in renal-deficient rats receiving 0 or 5 ppm fluoride. A fluoride concentration of 50 ppm reduced femoral bone strength by 11% in control rats and by 31% in renal-deficient rats. Vertebral strength also was decreased significantly in renal-deficient rats given 50 ppm fluoride. In conclusion, fluoridated water in concentrations equivalent to 3 and 10 ppm in humans, caused osteomalacia and reduced bone strength in rats with surgically-induced renal deficiency.