Two happy women are sitting in a bar and smoking hookah

Hookah vs. Cigarettes: Is Smoking Hookah Safer for Your Mouth?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Did you know that up to 20% of college students have smoked a water pipe, also known as a hookah? While cigarette smoking has been reducing in the past few years, hookah smoking has been increasing in popularity, possibly because some people believe it is better for your mouth than cigarettes. Unfortunately, this is a myth, and hookah smoking is associated with many oral and overall health conditions. Read on to find out more so you can decide whether to avoid hookah smoking in the future.

What Are Hookahs?

A hookah, also known as a shisha or narghile, is a water pipe attached to a smoke chamber, a bowl, a piper, a hose, and a mouthpiece. Specially made tobacco is heated, and the smoke makes its way through the pot of water and can then be inhaled through the hose and mouthpiece.

The tobacco comes in many flavors, for instance, strawberry, mint, spiced chai, amongst others. The amount of nicotine used in this tobacco is usually not regulated.

Hookahs vs. Cigarettes

Since the tobacco in hookahs is flavored, unlike cigarettes, smokers may believe that hookah smoking is more healthy than cigarette smoking, or at least that hookahs contain less of the bad stuff, aka nicotine. However, hookahs very much deliver nicotine, the same addictive substance found in cigarettes.

In fact, hookah smokers may absorb more toxic nicotine than cigarette smokers because of the way a hookah is used. This is because one waterpipe session can last up to 80 minutes, resulting in the smoker receiving between 50-200 puffs. MouthHealthy by the American Dental Association points out that a cigarette usually takes 5-7 minutes to smoke and can be finished in 40-75 puffs.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that the smoke inhaled during one hookah session is 90,000 ml. The smoke inhaled while smoking one cigarette is 500-600 ml.

Are Hookahs Better for Your Mouth?

Now that we’ve established that hookahs are not healthy, let’s discuss what effect they can have on your oral health.

Hookah smoking is associated with gum disease, oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and dry sockets.

The oral health problems caused by hookah smoking are not dissimilar from smoking cigarettes—for instance, slow healing after a tooth extraction, bad breath, and staining of the teeth.

Additionally, hookah smoking can affect your overall health. According to the American Thoracic Society, it can cause the following problems:

  • Increased risk for lung and stomach cancer
  • Reduced lung function
  • Decreased fertility for both men and women
  • Increased risk of stroke and heart disease
  • Increased risk of transmitting tuberculosis or herpes due to sharing the mouthpiece of the hookah

If you’re worried about the oral or overall health effects of smoking hookah, the best thing to do is quit...or better yet, don't start smoking if you haven't already! Your doctor or dentist can be a great resource here. They can help you find the tools you need to quit or to answer questions about the health risks associated with hookah smoking.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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