Dental Dams

Key Facts
  • When used correctly dental dams can lessen the chance of a person getting an STI of the mouth, throat, or anus
  • Make sure there are no tears or rips in a dental dam before using it
  • Use a new dental dam each time you have oral sex

Dental dams are used as a barrier during oral sex. Oral sex is a sexual act that involves the mouth, lips or tongue and a penis, vagina, anus or genital area.

What are dental dams?

Dental dams are made of a stretchy material such as latex or polyurethane. They come in different colors and they are usually square shaped. Dental dams can be flavored or unflavored and can be used with or without lube. They are used to protect people from getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) of the mouth, throat, or anus.

How do dental dams work?

Dental dams work as a barrier or shield between a person’s mouth and their partner’s penis, vagina, or anus. The dental dam is held over the genital area during oral sex from beginning to end) so there is no direct contact. Using a dental dam greatly lessens the change of getting and spreading most STIs.

1. Unwrap the dental dam
2. During oral sex, cover genital area with dental dam
3. Throw away and use a new dental dam the next time you have oral sex

What kind of barrier should I use when performing oral sex on my partner’s penis?

Condoms should be used rather than dental dams for mouth to penis oral sex. If your partner is allergic to latex, a polyurethane (non-latex) condom can be used instead. You may use lubricated or unlubricated condoms. Some people like to add flavored lubrication or use favored condoms–it’s up to you.

What STIs can be spread through oral sex?

There are many different STIs that can be spread through oral sex including: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes virus (types 1 and 2), HPV and HIV. Depending on the type of oral to genital contact, STIs can affect a person’s throat, genital area (penis or vagina), urinary tract, anus and rectum. For example, if your partner has a genital STI infection of their penis or vagina such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and you perform oral sex without using a barrier such as a dental dam, you can get an STI of your mouth and throat. If they do, they usually complain of a sore throat. It’s important to let your health care provider know if you are worried about STDs in your mouth or throat so they can recommend appropriate testing.

Where are dental dams sold?

You can buy dental dams in most pharmacies and online. Sometimes family planning and sexual health clinics will have them available for free.

Can I make a dental dam out of a condom?

Yes! You can make an effective barrier by cutting off the tip and bottom of a condom, then cutting down the side to make a rectangle. Next, unroll the condom and place it over the genital area and use it like a dental dam.

1. Unwrap the condom and unroll it
2. Cut off the tip of the condom
3. Cut off the open end of the condom
4. Cut a line straight down the length of the condom, making a rectangle
5. Your homemade dental dam is ready to use!

Can dental dams be used more than once?

No. You need to use a new dental dam each time you have oral sex. Using the flip side of a dental dam could accidentally expose you to an STI.

The safest way to protect yourself from getting a sexually transmitted infection is to abstain or not have sex, including oral sex. If you choose to have genital and/or oral sex, make sure that you use a barrier method such as dental dams and/or condoms to lessen your risk. If you are sexually active, see your health care provider regularly and get tested for STIs. Early treatment will lessen the chance of serious complications. Be open with your health care provider about your sexual practices including oral sex so that they can help you stay healthy!
Images are from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,