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What is a dental dam?

Medically reviewed on March 28, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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There are many ways to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. While condoms are one of the most well-known forms of protection when it comes to penetrative sex, how do you keep you and your partner(s) safe during oral sex? This is where dental dams come into play.

But what is a dental dam? It’s a thin piece of polyurethane or latex that provides a barrier between direct mouth-to-body contact during oral sex [1].

Dental dams are easy to use and can help prevent the spread of certain infections. This short guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how they protect you and how you can use them properly.

Why should you use a dental dam?

Condoms are designed to protect you from the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during penetrative sex. However, STIs can spread during oral sex, too. During mouth-to-genital or mouth-to-anus contact, a dental dam serves as a protective barrier, helping to reduce the risk of contracting an STI.

What does a dental dam protect against?

When used correctly, a dental dam can help protect a number of different STIs and greatly reduce the likelihood that you’ll come into direct contact with fluids that are often responsible for transmitting infections.

Dental dams are most effective in the prevention of [2]:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis
  • Syphilis

Dos and don’ts of using a dental dam

If you’ve never used a dental dam before, there are a few key points you’ll need to know before you do. According to the CDC, the important dos and don’ts of dental dam usage are as follows:

  • Do use a dental dam every time you have oral sex – STIs can be spread during oral sex just as easily as they can during penetrative sex. Avoid putting you or your partner at risk by using safe sexual practices.
  • Don’t reuse a dental dam – The purpose of a dental dam is to prevent bodily fluids from coming into contact with you or your partner. Reusing a dental dam could end up exposing you to those fluids or breaking during use.
  • Do use water or silicon-based lubricants only – Oil-based products can cause breakage to the thin material the dental dam is made from. You should use water or silicone-based lubricants instead as these can help make the experience more pleasurable without the risk of the dam tearing.
  • Don’t use a dental dam that has expired or is damaged – Dental dams do expire after a certain amount of time. An expired dental dam can tear more easily and may not provide the protection you need from infections. Always check the expiration date and look for any holes or tears before use.
  • Do still get tested for STIs regularly – Even though dental dams help protect you from the spread of some STIs, they don’t protect you from all STIs. Regular screening is the best way to protect you and your partner from infection. Testing is easy, privacy-protected, and will provide you with the peace of mind you need to enjoy your sexual relationship.

Where can you buy dental dams?

Dental dams aren’t as ubiquitous as condoms. However, you can find them at many sexual health clinics. You can also easily order them online or purchase from an adult interest store.

Like condoms, dental dams come in a variety of sizes, flavors, materials, and colors. Just make sure to always check the expiration date before you make your purchase.

In a pinch, you may also use a condom as a DIY dental dam. Since the materials are similar, all you need to do is:

  • Open a condom package
  • Lay the condom flat
  • Carefully cut the condom lengthwise until you have a flat piece of latex Use the same way you’d use a dental dam

If you have trouble finding dental dams, this method is an effective substitute.

Choose Everlywell for your sexual health testing needs

Dental dams tend to be an underutilized—yet highly effective—form of protection against some sexually transmitted infections. When used properly, dental dams can help stop the spread of gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, and chlamydia.

When paired with safe sex practices, regular screenings can help you engage in a sexual relationship with your partner(s) in a way that feels safe and secure. Everlywell has a full line of tests esigned to help you foster a healthy relationship with sex—both physically and mentally. Check out our offerings for safe, convenient, and discreet at-home testing today and take charge of your sexual wellness.

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1. Dental Dam Use. CDC. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

2. Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines, 2021. CDC. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

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