What is a Dental Dam and How does one use it?

 What is it?

A dental dam is a thin, flexible piece of latex that protects against direct mouth-to-genital or mouth-to-anus contact during oral sex. This reduces your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) while still allowing for clitoral or anal stimulation.

They’re an effectiveTrusted Source form of protection, but odds are you’ve never even heard of them. Read on to find out what you’ve been missing.

Safe-sex measures typically focus on penetrative sex, which is why condoms are so readily available. But that’s not the only type of intercourse that spreads bacteria and infections.

It’s possible to get or transmit STIs through oral sex as well.

Types of infections include:

Barrier methods of protection, like a dental dam, can greatly reduceTrusted Source your risk of sharing the fluids that carry these infections during oral sex.

If you’re curious about oral anal play but a bit squeamish, consider using a dental dam. This can help you avoid coming into contact with fecal matter, which can carry bacteria like E. coli and Shigella, or even intestinal parasites.

A dental dam can stop fluid exchanges, but it might not prevent you from sharing infections or conditions that are swapped through intimate skin-to-skin contact.

Dental dams don’t protect against:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). The most commonTrusted Source STI can be shared through contact with skin, whether warts are present or not.
  • Herpes. If a herpes lesion isn’t covered by the dam, you may come into contact with it during sex, leading to transmission.
  • Pubic lice. If you came into contact with these bugs during oral sex, you could find new guests in your body hair.

One of the reasons dental dams may not be as well-known as condoms is because they’re not available in every pharmacy — or gas station, grocery store, doctors’ office, or even club bathroom.

In fact, you may have a difficult time finding dental dams at any store.

Start at an adult store, or look to order them online. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. Some are even flavored. If you or a partner have a latex allergy, you can look for dental dams made from other materials, such as polyurethane.

A dental dam is more expensive than a condom; one dental dam is typically $1 to $2. Some family planning or sexual health clinics stock dental dams and offer them for free, so check there before placing an order.


If you aren’t interested in using a traditional dental dam, you may be interested in something more conventional: latex underwear. Although the first run of Lorals is primarily focused on comfort, the company wants their second collection to protect against STIs, too.

Dental dams are easy to use. Still, it’s important to go slow and apply the dam carefully to prevent any tears or holes.

Gently tear open the package. Pull the piece out of the protective envelope. Unfold it and place it over your or your partner’s vagina or anus. The rectangular or square piece of material should be big enough to cover the entire vaginal or anal area.

Don’t stretch the dam or press it tightly against the skin. Instead, let it naturally stick to the body via moisture or static.

Leave the dam in place until you’re finished, and then toss it in the garbage can. If it gets jumbled up during the act, toss it and get a new one.

For maximum benefit

  • Hold the dam. If the sheet begins to move during the action, you or your partner can hold it in place with one or both hands. It’s important you keep the whole area protected so you can prevent exchanging any STIs or bacteria.
  • Grease the dam. Help stop a slippery dam by placing a little lube between the dental dam and the skin. The lubed contact might be more pleasurable, too. Use a water- or silicone-based lube; oil-based lubes can damage latex and cause tears.
  • Replace the dam. If the dam tears, stop the action. Throw away the damaged dam and replace it with a new one before you get back down to business.

No dental dam? No problem. You can make your own dam with things you might already have in the house.

condom makes for a great dental dam. To DIY:

  1. Tear open the condom package and unroll it.
  2. Snip the tip and the rolled ends.
  3. Cut along one side of the condom.
  4. Roll out the latex sheet and use it in place of an official dental dam.

Don’t even have a spare condom? You can use plastic wrap in a pinch, but keep in mind it’s not at all intended for this purpose. In fact, there are no studies that prove it’s an effective barrier method. The thicker material may also reduce pleasure.

That said, it’s better than using nothing at all. To do this, simply tear a piece of plastic wrap that’s large enough to cover the vaginal or anal area. Follow the same how-to-use process as you would for a store-bought dam.

Absolutely not. Once used, you could expose yourself or your partner to an STI or another type of infection with an already-used dental dam.

STIs and other infections can be passed through oral sex.

Although you can use an outside condom to perform oral sex on a partner with a penis, they don’t offer protection during vaginal or anal oral play.

You can use an outside condom to create your own dental dam, though. If you aren’t into DIY.

Jose Phiri

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References For STD-STI Information

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2. CDC. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.

3. Newman LM, Moran JS, Workowski KA. Update on the management of gonorrhea in adults in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;44(suppl 3):S84-S101.

4. Swygard H, Seña AC, Cohen MS. Treatment of uncomplicated gonococcal infections. UpToDate. www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-uncomplicated-gonococcal-infections. Accessed February 12, 2016.

5. Ghanem KG. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection in adults and adolescents. UpToDate. www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis-of-neisseria-gonorrhoeae-infection-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed February 12, 2016.

6. Goldenberg DL, Sexton DJ. Disseminated gonococcal infection. UpToDate. www.uptodate.com/contents/disseminated-gonococcal-infection. Accessed February 17, 2016.

7. Unemo M, Nicholas RA. Emergence of multidrug-resistant, extensively drug-resistant and untreatable gonorrhea. Future Microbiol. 2012;7:1401-1422.

8. CDC. CDC Grand Rounds: the growing threat of multidrug-resistant gonorrhea. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:103-106.

9. Kidd S, Workowski KA. Management of gonorrhea in adolescents and adults in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2015;61(suppl 8):S785-S801.

10. World Health Organization. Global action plan to control the spread and impact of antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2012.

11. McKie RA. Sexually transmitted diseases. www.ahcmedia.com/articles/78496-sexually-transmitted-diseases. Accessed May 1, 2016.