Dental Dams: Are They Dead

Dental dams are a used as a barrier of protection between the mouth and genitals. Find out how effective they are and if there are better alternatives.

Dr. Rachel Rubin
Board certified Urologist and assistant clinical professor in Urology
by Dr. Rachel Rubin Last updated 08/01/2023
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what is a dental dam

A simple barrier of protection between the mouth and genitals may lower the risks of certain sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

Quick FAQs

A dental dam is a thin rectangular piece of latex or polyurethane

Dental dams help to protect against orally transmissible STIs like Hepatitis, Chlamydia, and Syphilis.

Dental dams do not protect against genital herpes, human papillomavirus, and pubic lice.

Dental dams are meant to be used for that very purpose, but these devices are highly underutilized and can be complicated and awkward to use.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the following:

  • What are they exactly
  • How to use them
  • What they protect against
  • What they don’t protect against
  • Alternatives

So let’s get started!

What Is a Dental Dam?

Dental dams are thin, stretchy rectangular pieces of polyurethane or latex.

Originally designed to be used in dentistry, they can also be used during oral sex to reduce the risk of STIs transmission during skin-on-skin contact:

  • Mouth-to-vagina
  • Mouth-to-anus

What Do Dental Dams Protect Against?

Even though most people associate the transmission of STIs with penetrative sex, there are many STIs that are transmissible during oral sex.

Dental dams are thought to reduce the risks of transmitting certain STIs simply because there is less of a chance of fluids being exchanged.

They can lower the risks of spreading or contracting orally transmissible STIs, such as:

  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Hepatitis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Gonorrhea

During oral-anal sex, there is also a risk of being exposed to intestinal parasites and bacteria that are known to be present in fecal matter.

For example, both E.coli and Shigella can be found in human fecal matter, and both are related to serious illnesses.

What Do Dental Dams Not Protect Against?

A dental dam is only effective when used properly, and there is a huge margin for human error.

Further, they don't do anything to lower the risks that come along with basic skin-to-skin contact.

Dental dams do not offer protection against:

  • Genital herpes - Spread through contact with the skin, genitals, or mouth of an individual with herpes
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) - Spreads through direct skin contact with someone who has HPV
  • Pubic lice - Spread by close contact with the body of someone with pubic lice

How to Use a Dental Dam

On the surface level, dental dam use is relatively straightforward:

  1. Open the dental dam
  2. Unroll the material and place it over the anus or vulva
  3. Hold the dam in place while performing oral sex
  4. Discard after use

During dental dam oral sex, be careful to hold the piece of latex in place, which can be a little awkward and involves using both hands.

To completely avoid contact can mean paying close attention while performing the sex act and holding the protective barrier in place the entire time.

Dental Dam Dos and Don'ts

When it comes to using dental dams, there are some basic things you should know.

Check out a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind when using a dental dam for protection during oral sex.

  • Do - Use water-based lubes only.
  • Do - Use each dental dam only one time.
  • Do - Store dental dams in a dry and cool place.
  • Do - Throw away any dental dam that has signs of damage. (e.g., rips, tears, or runs)
  • Do - Wash off cornstarch or powdery residue that helps keep the product from sticking to itself before use to thwart the risk of wound infections.

 And now for the don'ts:

  • Don't - Use a dental dam for oral-to-penis sex; condoms are a better option.
  • Don't - Use oil-based lubricants or other products that can lower effectiveness.
  • Don't - Reuse a dental dam because the material may be compromised after one use.
    • Don't - Use a dental dam past its expiration date.
    • Don't - Use a dental dam with nonoxynol-9 (spermicide) products.
    • Don't - Use latex dental dams if either partner has an allergy to latex.

    Where Do You Buy a Dental Dam for Oral?

    Dental dams are much harder to find than condoms, which are available everywhere, from gas stations to pharmacies.

    Look for them through adult toy retailers or order them online.

    They may also be found available for free at sexual health clinics.

    Even though dental dams are not as readily available, they can usually be found in a lot of styles and variations in terms of thickness, color, and size.

    Are There Dental Dam Alternatives?

    Dental dams may not be easily accessible and can sometimes be tricky to use appropriately. 

    A few other options can be effective as a barrier of protection during oral sex.

    Lorals for Protection

    Lorals for Protection are latex panties that have been FDA-cleared for lowering the risks of STI transmission during oral sex.

    Lorals are easier to use than dental dams because they offer a hands-free way to maintain the same level of protection. 

    The receiving partner simply slips the panties on just like normal underwear and makes sure the panties are properly positioned. 

    All areas are then covered (including the anus) by a protective barrier during oral sex.

    Lorals latex panties for protection are available through several retailers, including Promescent.

    Much like dental dams, the panties are only for one use and should be discarded after an oral sex session.

    Make Your Own Dental Dam for Oral

    If you don't have a dental dam on hand or don't know where to buy dental dam products, they can be created at home using a latex condom.

    To make a dental dam out of a condom, simply:

    1. Using scissors, cut the tip off of the condom
    2. Now, cut the elastic ring off of the base of the condom
    3. Cut a straight line along the length of the condom

    This should result in a rectangular-shaped piece of latex that can be used the same as a dental dam.

    A basic dental dam can also be achieved by using a latex glove and cutting a rectangular piece from the hand part of the glove.

    Just be sure to wash away any dusting material off the gloves before use.

    It should be noted that some people assume using plastic wrap from the kitchen is a good alternative to a dental dam.

    However, plastic wrap is also easily torn and does not offer the same level of protection.

    Takeaways

    STIs can be transmitted through oral sex, and sometimes, simply having a layer of protection during oral sex makes the situation cleaner and more enjoyable.

    Dental dams do offer an effective solution.

    While this device is known to protect against some STIs, they are not so effective at protecting from others.

    And using a dental dam wrong is an easy mistake to make.

    Alternatives to this device like Lorals for Protection are easy to find and possibly easier to use.

    Additionally, you can make your own dental dam using a condom at home.

    Related Article

    Dr. Rachel Rubin

    Dr. Rachel Rubin

    Dr. Rachel S. Rubin is a board-certified Urologist with fellowship training in sexual medicine. She is an assistant clinical professor in Urology at Georgetown University and practices at IntimMedicine Specialists in Washington DC. Dr. Rubin provides comprehensive sexual medicine care to all genders. She treats issues such as pelvic pain, menopause, erectile dysfunction, and low libido. Dr. Rubin is currently the education chair for the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) and an associate editor for the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews. Dr. Rubin has fellowship designation from both ISSWSH and the Sexual Medicine Society of North America (SMSNA).

    Sources:

    Absorption Pharmaceuticals LLC (Promescent) has strict informational citing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic or research institutions, medical associations, and medical experts. We attempt to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references and only citing trustworthy sources. Each article is reviewed, written, and updated by Medical Professionals or authoritative Experts in a specific, related field of practice. You can find out more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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    The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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