Dental Dams

Dental dams are small, square pieces of latex or silicone rubber that are placed outside the vulva or anus. Dental dams prevent the transfer of bodily fluids between sexual partners by creating a barrier between the mouth and the vulva or anus during oral sex. Dental dams are usually available for purchase at your local drugstore as well as online. Alternatively, plastic saran wrap or altered cut male or female condoms can be used instead, but a professionally made dental dam is the safest and most recommended choice. Dental dams are for one-time use only and do not prevent pregnancy.

Sexually Transmitted Infection Protection

It is still possible to transmit sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and bacterial infections through oral sex, though the risk is lower when compared to unprotected vaginal and/or anal sex. Therefore, dental dams can be an extremely effective barrier method to decrease the risk of contracting an STI or bacterial infection from cunnilingus (oral-vaginal sex) or analingus (oral-anal sex). Many health educators support the idea that dental dams meet safety standards required for STI prevention, and that alternatives- such as plastic saran wrap- cannot be recommended as safe barrier methods. However, dental dams are not manufactured, registered, or tested for STI prevention purposes. There have been no studies that test their permeability to STI pathogens, although it is likely that their permeability to STIs is similar to condoms, which are usually made of latex that is thinner than a dental dam.For oral contact with a penis, it is safest to use a condom, as this barrier method will not slip like a dental dam may. Dental dams prevent the spread of many STIs, such as- herpes, gonorrhea, genital warts, and HIV- which can all be contracted through the exchange of bodily fluids. UNAIDS and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that a condom or dental dam is recommended to reduce the risk of HIV transmission when engaging in oral sex.2

To read more about the importance of using a barrier during oral sex, click here

How To Use a Dental Dam

To begin, check to make sure there are no holes or tears in the dental dam’s material. It is recommended to clean the dental dam with warm water before use, especially if it has a powdery, cornstarch-like substance on it, which may cause vaginal irritation. Gently open the package and pull the dental dam out of the protective envelope. After opening and cleaning the dental damn, unfold it and place it over you 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. Do not stretch the dam or press it tightly against the skin. Instead, let it naturally stick to the body via moisture, lubrication, or static.3 Once these steps have been done, partners can safely stimulate the receiver’s vulva or anal area with their tongue. Leave the dental dam in place until the sexual act is finished. If it gets jumbled or twisted during the sexual act, remove the dental dam and use a new one.3 Once again, dental dams are only supposed to be used once, so when the sexual act is over, be sure to throw it away and do not reuse it.

If the dental dam is not pre-lubricated, apply a small amount of water-based lubricant to the side that will touch the vagina or anus. This will prevent friction and irritation as well as increase sensation for all partners involved. Oil-based lubricants- such as Vaseline, baby oil, and lotion- can weaken the latex and therefore should not be used. 

Partners can then safely stimulate the user’s vulva or anal region with their tongue. 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.3

In addition, the dental dam should not be moved from one body part to another, and users should never turn one side of the dental dam over to use the other side. Both practices may cause the spread and transfer of bacteria and bodily fluids, thus defeating its purpose. 


How to Make a Dental Dam from a Male Condom

If you are without a dental dam and need oral barrier protection, it is possible to create on with a male condom. The following are simple steps to make an effective dental dam:

1. Check the expiration date of the condom and look for signs of possible damages to ensure that the condom is still effective.

2. Cut the tip and the bottom band of the condom off.

3. Cut down one side of the condom and then unfold the material. You should now have a rectangle of material that can be used as a dental dam.

It is recommended to use non-lubricated condoms without spermicide. Lubricated condoms may taste unpleasant and spermicide can cause the tongue to go numb. Flavored condoms and special lubricants designed for oral sex may improve the overall sexual experience as well. The diagram provided offers a visual representation and step-by-step process of transforming a male contom into an effective dental dam.

Concluding Remarks

It is important to remember that dental dams have no side effects. Dental dams are also an extremely effective method to decrease the risk of contracting STIs. Dental dams are effective in creating a barrier during oral stimulation. As always, it is recommended to use a form of contraception to prevent STIs when practicing safe sex, and using a dental dam is a great place to start.



  1. Richters, Juliet, and Stevie Clayton. “The Practical and Symbolic Purpose of Dental Dams in Lesbian Safer Sex Promotion.” Sexual Health, vol. 7, no. 2, 2010, p. 103., doi:10.1071/sh09073.
  2. Hawkins, D. A. “Oral Sex and HIV Transmission.” Sexually Transmitted Infections, vol. 77, no. 5, 2001, pp. 307–308., doi:10.1136/sti.77.5.307.
  3. Holland, Kimberly. “Everything You Need to Know About Using a Dental Dam.” Everything You Need to Know About Using a Dental Dam, Healthline, 3 May 2018
  4. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Doctors, Patient Care, Health Education, Medical Research.” PAMF - California Health Care | Health Education

Last Updated: 17 February 2019.