Fluoride is a ubiquitous natural substance that is often used in dental products to prevent dental caries. The biphasic actions of fluoride imply that excessive systemic exposure to fluoride can cause harmful effects on embryonic development in both animal models and humans. However, insufficient information is available on the effects of fluoride on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), which is a novel in vitro humanized model for analyzing the embryotoxicities of chemical compounds. Therefore, we investigated the effects of sodium fluoride (NaF) on the proliferation, differentiation and viability of H9 hESCs. For the first time, we showed that 1 mM NaF did not significantly affect the proliferation of hESCs but did disturb the gene expression patterns of hESCs during embryoid body (EB) differentiation. Higher doses of NaF (2 mM and above) markedly decreased the viability and proliferation of hESCs. The mode and underlying mechanism of high-dose NaF-induced cell death were further investigated by assessing the sub-cellular morphology, mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), caspase activities, cellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels and activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs). High-dose NaF caused the death of hESCs via apoptosis in a caspase-mediated but ROS-independent pathway, coupled with an increase in the phospho-c-Jun N-terminal kinase (p-JNK) levels. Pretreatment with a pJNK-specific inhibitor (SP600125) could effectively protect hESCs from NaF-induced cell death in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. These findings suggest that NaF might interfere with early human embryogenesis by disturbing the specification of the three germ layers as well as osteogenic lineage commitment and that high-dose NaF could cause apoptosis through a JNK-dependent pathway in hESCs.