While the benefit of fluoridation in the prevention of dental caries has been overwhelmingly substantiated, the effect of fluoride on bone mineral density is less clear. This cross-sectional study was designed to compare the bone mineral densities of older adults exposed to various levels of fluoride from community water systems. Participants were recruited from 3 rural communities with naturally occurring fluoride in their water systems at 0.03, 0.7, and 2.5 mg/L. All adults, age 60 and over, were eligible if they were ambulatory and had a long-term history (> or = 20 yrs) of ingesting city water. Bone mineral density (BMD) was measured by means of dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry at 3 anatomical sites: lumbar spine, proximal femur, and forearm. A total of 353 white non-Hispanic women and 317 white non-Hispanic men took part in the study. When the data were stratified by city of residence and gender, men and women living in the community with high levels of fluoride in their community water system had significantly higher lumbar spine BMD than their counterparts from the communities with low and moderate fluoride levels. The women in the high-fluoride community had significantly higher proximal femur BMD, but there were no statistically significant differences among men in either proximal femur or forearm BMD. Long-term exposure (> or = 20 yrs) to higher levels of fluoride appears to have a positive impact on lumbar spine and proximal femur BMD. Based on the results of this study, exposure to fluoride at levels considered “optimal” for the prevention of dental caries (from 0.7 to 1.2 mg/L) appears to have no significant impact on bone mineral density. The relationship between higher levels of fluoride exposure and bone mineral density requires further investigation.