Everything You Need to Know About Using a Dental Dam

Condoms are not the only form of protection during sex.

There's more than just condoms to practice safe sex. In fact, dental dams are another excellent form of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Dental dams are thin sheets of latex or polyurethane (plastic) that are placed between the mouth and the vagina or anus during oral sex.

Dental dams may not be as well-known to most people and are infrequently used during oral sex. However, they can be found online or in stores in different sizes, styles, and even assorted flavors. You can also create your own at home. 

After all, oral sex isn’t risk-free, and it’s important to still use protection. Dental dams are a great option if you’re engaging in oral sex. 

What Do Dental Dams Protect Against?

Using dental dams can lower the risk of STI transmission during oral sex. Placing the latex or polyurethane square across the anus or vagina can prevent blood or vaginal fluids from entering your mouth. Conversely, it can also prevent your saliva from making contact with someone’s genitals.

Dental dams can protect against: 

It’s crucial to note that dental dams do not protect against pregnancy. They’re meant to prevent the transmission of bodily fluids that can lead to certain STIs. Condoms and abstinence from sex are more vital preventive methods for an unwanted pregnancy.

How to Use a Dental Dam 

Here’s a step-by-step guide for using a dental dam during oral sex:

  1. Carefully remove the dental dam from its packaging.
  2. Make sure there are no tears or defects on the dam.
  3. Place the dental dam flat across the vaginal opening or anus.
  4. Use a water-based or silicone-based lubricant to prevent breakage.
  5. Toss away the dental dam in the trash after use. 

Where to Get Dental Dams

You can find dental dams online, in grocery stores, or in pharmacies. Typically, these products are found in the sexual wellness sections of the store, where condoms and similar items are located.  

In addition, some family planning and sexual health clinics may also give away free dental dams to patients. Ask your healthcare provider or a receptionist if they have any dental dams available.

How to Make Your Own Dental Dam

A great benefit of dental dams is that there are ways you can them at home. Some standard products you can use to create a dental dam include male condoms, plastic food wrap, and nitrile gloves. 

If you want to make a dental dam out of a condom, use the following steps: 

  1. Remove the condom from the packaging.
  2. Cut the tip and the rolled end of the condom off with a pair of scissors.
  3. Cut down one side of the condom to create a square shape.
  4. Place the dental dam on the vagina or anus for oral sex protection. 

Be aware that some plastic food wraps are porous. Doctors caution against using those.

Tips for Using Dental Dams

These tips for using dental dams can protect you and your partner(s) from STI:

  • Check the package to ensure the dental dam is not expired.
  • Check the dental dam for any tears or damage.
  • Place the dental dam on the vaginal opening or anus and keep it there until sex is over.
  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant to increase pleasurable sensations and eliminate breakage.
  • Keep dental dams in a cool, dry place. 
  • Don’t stretch the dental dam, as it can cause tears.
  • Avoid using spermicides (chemicals that kill sperm), as they may irritate.
  • Don’t use oil-based lubricants, as they can break the dental dam.
  • Never reuse a dental dam. 
  • Dispose of dental dams in the trash, as flushing them may clog the toilet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Given some misconceptions about dental dams, you may have questions about using this form of STI protection. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about using dental dams. 

Do dental dams affect pleasure?

In some cases, dental dams may be unpleasant. Some common complaints are that dental dams can decrease pleasure and sensation and may have an off-putting taste.

Fortunately, many dental dams contain a lubricant, which can help improve sensation between partners. Regarding taste, some dental dams come in fun flavors that may be appealing if you’re giving oral sex. 

Are dental dams better than condoms?

Not necessarily, they just have different usage. Dental dams protect areas condoms may not cover, so they’re equally important for STI protection. It’s recommended that you use both during sex (depending on which sexual act) to decrease the risk of STI transmission. You shouldn’t use both condoms and dental dams at the same time.

For example, you can use a dental dam for oral sex and a condom for penetrative sex.

Can a dental dam be used on a man?

Yes, a dental dam can be used on men. A dental dam is an excellent preventive method for oral sex on the anus, known as rimming. If you’re performing or receiving oral sex on the penis, a condom would be a safer alternative to a dental dam. This is because a condom can protect the penis from the tip to the end of the shaft. 

Can you reuse a dental dam?

No, you should never reuse a dental dam. Just like a used condom, a dental dam may contain bodily fluids that may harm you, such as blood or vaginal discharge. So please be sure to dispose of the dental dam after one use. 

A Quick Review

Dental dams are used for STI protection during oral sex on the vaginal area or anus. The square-shaped thin sheet of latex or polyurethane can be found in-store, online, or at sexual health clinics. 

You can also create a dental dam with a male condom, a glove, or with plastic wrap. To use a dental dam, you can simply place the square on the vaginal opening or anus before engaging in oral sex. 

Dental dams can be used on all genders, although a condom is preferred giving oral sex to a penis. You should never reuse a dental dam, as you can transmit bodily fluids to yourself or another partner. 

If you have concerns about using dental dams, please speak with your healthcare provider.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to use a dental dam.

  2. Milwaukee Health Department. STI risk and oral sex - CDC fact sheet.

  3. National Health Service. What infections can I catch through oral sex?

  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Tips for using condoms and dental dams.

  5. Gutierrez D, Tan A, Strome A et al. Dental dams in dermatology: An underutilized barrier method of protection. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. 2022;8(1). doi:10.1097/jw9.0000000000000008

  6. We R Native. Dental dam dos and dont's.

  7. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc. Dental dams unwrapped.

  8. Cornelisse VJ, Fairley CK, Read TRH, et al. Associations between anorectal chlamydia and oroanal sex or saliva use as a lubricant for Anal sex: A cross-sectional survey. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2018;45(8):506-510. doi:10.1097/olq.0000000000000800

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