What Is a Dental Dam?

Protection From Infection During Oral Sex

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Dental dams are thin, flexible pieces of latex or polyurethane used as a barrier between the mouth and the vagina or anus during oral sex. Like condoms, they're designed to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other infections and should be used only once.

Ready-to-use dental dams can be purchased online or at some drug stores; you also can make a DIY dental dam out of a condom.

A dental dam is similar to a condom, in that it is used to help protect sexual partners from sexually transmitted infections, but is designed to be used during oral sex.

History

Dental dams originally were developed for use by dentists to isolate areas of the mouth being treated and to prevent bacterial contamination.

In the 1990s, people began using dental dams for oral sex. In 1998, the condom company Glyde USA received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a latex dental dam designed for oral sex. Originally called Glyde Dam Lollyes, the product now is available as Sheer Glyde Dams.

Purpose

Dental dams are an effective way to prevent STDs when used during oral-vaginal sex (cunnilingus) and oral-anal sex (anilingus, also known as rimming). They prevent the transmission of viruses and other microbes from one partner to another directly or via body fluids.

Dental dams can also act as a barrier against bacteria found in fecal matter such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), during oral-anal sex.

Types

Most dental dams are made of latex. However, there are versions made of polyurethane for people who are allergic to latex. To encourage their use, some manufacturers have created flavored dental dams.

Dental dams are most easily available online. They're sometimes sold in drugstores in the family planning aisle or from public health departments. Wherever purchased, dental dams are quite affordable: The typical cost is $1 or $2 each.

DIY Dental Dams

Dental dams aren't as readily available as condoms, but in a pinch, you can make your own using a non-lubricated latex or polyurethane condom; it can be flavored if that's your preference:

  1. Remove the condom from the package and unroll it.
  2. Using scissors, snip off the tip of the condom.
  3. Cut off the rubber base of the condom.
  4. Cut the condom lengthwise from tip to base. Be very careful not to poke a hole in the condom as you trim it; otherwise, it will be useless.

Don't be tempted to use plastic wrap as a makeshift dental dam. There's no research to show it's effective for preventing STIs. What's more, the thickness of plastic wrap may dull sensation.

How To Use

Using a dental dam is simple: During oral-vaginal sex, the dam is placed flat over the vulva to serve as a barrier between the mouth of the person performing oral sex and the vagina of the person receiving it. Similarly, during oral-anal sex the dental dam is placed over the anus to create a barrier between the mouth and the anus.

Once positioned, the dam must be held in place by either the person performing oral sex or the person receiving it. If it slips or is punctured, oral sex should be stopped immediately. The dam should be disposed of and replaced with a fresh one before sex is resumed. Used dental dams should be disposed of immediately.

Do
  • Use a new dental dam every time.

  • Check the expiration date before use and follow instructions on the package

  • Check for tears in the latex or polyurethane

  • Apply a water-based or silicone lubricant to the side of the dental dam that touches the skin to help prevent breakage and improve sensation.

  • Store dental dams in a cool, dry place.

  • Dispose of dental dams in the trash after use or if the expiration date has passed.

Do Not
  • Fip a used dental dam over in order to reuse it. You could still be exposed to body fluids harboring viruses or bacteria.

  • Use oil-based lubricants, such as baby oil, lotion, petroleum jelly, or cooking oils as they will cause the dental dam to break.

  • Stretch a dental dam since it may lead to a tear.

  • Use a spermicide or make a dental dam out of condoms with spermicide because it can cause irritation.

Effectiveness

Few studies have examined the use of dental dams for preventing STDs, but it's likely they can substantially reduce the risk of infection from a wide variety of viruses and bacteria known to be transmissable via oral sex, including:

The same goes for STDs associated with oral-anal sex:

A Word from Verywell

While the idea of using a dental dam during oral sex may seem unwieldy or unpleasant, it doesn't have to be if you make it part of the experience rather than a necessary precaution. If you have a partner who's reluctant to use a dental dam, think very carefully about proceeding, especially if they are not a long-term partner or someone you've just met. The encounter likely won't be worth the risk to your health or to theirs.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental dam use. Updated August 12, 2016.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral sex and HIV risk. Updated November 8, 2019.

  3. Kumar T, Puri G, Aravinda K, Arora N, Patil D, Gupta R. Oral sex and oral health: An enigma in itselfIndian J Sex Transm Dis AIDS. 2015;36(2):129–132. doi:10.4103/0253-7184.167133

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and oropharyngeal cancer. Updated March 14, 2018.