What Is a Dental Dam and When Do I Need One?

The One Tool You Need for Safe Oral Sex

Dental Dams
Dental Dams. Photo © Dawn Stacey

Dental dams are thin pieces of latex that can be used to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during oral sex or rimming (anilingus). They come in the shape of a small square or rectangle. Each piece should be used only one time.

Although dental dams are usually made from latex, latex-free kinds are available if you have a latex allergy.

How Were Dental Dams Developed?

Dental dams were originally developed as a medical device that was used by dentists.

A dentist used the dental dam to isolate the area being treated and to prevent bacterial contamination.

Now, dental dams are also used during oral-vaginal sex and oral-anal sex. Without the protection afforded by dental dams, one can easily contract an STD through the exchange of vaginal fluid or blood if one of the partners is already infected. Dental dams can also act as a barrier against parasites during oral-anal sex.

How Do I Use a Dental Dams?

During oral-vaginal sex, simply place the dental dam between your mouth and the vagina.

During oral-anal sex (rimming), place the dental dam between your mouth and the anus.

Again, you should only use a dental dam one time. 

Some Dental Dam Do's and Don'ts:

  • Once you use a dental dam, you need to throw it away.
  • You should never flip (or turn over) a dental dam that has already been used. This is because bodily fluids can be exchanged from the used side.
  • Dental dams can be used with lubricants for increased sensation. You can put a bit of lubricant on the side of the dental dam that touches the skin. This helps to keep the latex from sticking. Just make sure that you don't used oil-based lubricants.
  • Companies have also created flavored dental dams. They hope the fun flavors will encourage people to use them.

    Where to Buy Dental Dams

    You can buy dental dams from some drugstores (they should be located in the family planning aisle) and from various public health departments. Unfortunately, many people say that dental dams are hard to find. They can also be somewhat expensive. You can also buy dental dams online.

    Make Your Own Dental Dams

    If you can't find dental dams at your local store, or if they cost too much, there's good news. You can actually make your own dental dams at home. All you need is a condom and scissors: 

    1. Cut off the tip of the condom.
    2. Cut off the rubber base of the condom.
    3. Cut the condom lengthwise, down the side (from tip to base).
    4. You should end up with a rectangular dental dam!

    If you are going to make your own dental dam, it's best to use a non-lubricated latex condom. If the condom is lubricated, make sure that it does not contain spermicide, as this could numb your tongue or taste funny. A flavored condom may actually be your best option, simply because it's supposed to taste good! You can also find a flavored lubricant to use as well.

    Keep in mind, though, that using an actual dental dam is the best option. This is because dental dams are usually larger than homemade dental dams, and you may accidentally poke a do-it-yourself dental dam with scissors when you are cutting it.

    Some people also use Saran Wrap as makeshift dental dams. Though this may be better than using nothing at all, there is little to no research about how effective plastic wrap is. Also, the thickness of the plastic used to make Saran Wrap may dull sensation.


    Kumar T, Puri G, Aravinda K, Arora N, Patil D, Gupta R. "Oral sex and oral health: An enigma in itself." Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2015 Jul; 36(2):129-132. Accessed March 10, 2016.

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