The use of fluoride supplements to prevent caries has been advised for more than 100 years, but serious promotion of this strategy occurred only after the effectiveness of water fluoridation was established, in the late 1950s and 1960s. Although the effectiveness of fluoride supplements was apparently endorsed by many small clinical studies, closer examination of the experimental conditions of these, their methods and the analysis of their results undermined confidence in their findings. It is likely that confounding resulted in spurious conclusions in many of them. More modern, well-conducted clinical trials of supplements suggest that today, in children also exposed to fluoride from other sources such as toothpaste, the marginal effect of fluoride supplements is very small. There is evidence that fluoride lozenges, designed to maximise any local effect, may have a small caries preventive effect, particularly in deciduous teeth. Overall, poor compliance makes fluoride supplements a poor public health measure. Supplement use by young children is associated with a substantial risk of dental fluorosis. Fluorosis is an issue about which the public is becoming concerned in several countries and this concern, if translated into opposition to all fluoride use, could jeopardise the most successful caries preventive aid we have. The potential for dental fluorosis, concern about the public’s reaction to this, the poor effectiveness of supplements and the public’s poor compliance with their use are persuasive arguments for a radical reduction in the use of supplements by young children. Recent changes in fluoride dosage schedules and deferment of the age of commencing the use of supplements, implemented in many countries, have followed from these concerns. Supplements formulated as lozenges maximise topical exposure of enamel to fluoride and such products may offer older children and some adults a way of maintaining an elevated fluoride level in saliva at times when toothbrushing is not practical.