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what is a dental dam

By: RSC Editorial Team

March 7, 2022

What Is a Dental Dam, and How Can It Help Prevent STDs?

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is a dental dam?” Although dental dams aren't the most popular prophylactics, they're an effective (yet sadly underutilized) method of protecting yourself from STDs. The key to being in a healthy sexual relationship is twofold: educating yourself on using protection and getting regular STD tests.

At Rapid STD Testing, we make it easy for you to stay in control of your sexual health and wellbeing. You can order a testing panel online right now and visit one of our 2500 nationwide locations for accurate, confidential, and same-day STD testing.

In this article, we're going to explain all about dental dams, including what they are, how to use them correctly, and which STDs they can prevent.

What Is a Dental Dam Used for?

So, what is a dental dam, and how does it work? A dental dam is a thin latex or polyurethane barrier that goes over the vagina or anus to block bodily fluids and prevent the transmission of STDs during oral-to-genital contact. Dental professionals first created them to facilitate tooth isolation and prevent bacterial contamination during dental procedures.

In the 1990s, people began to use dental dams as protection during oral sex. However, the original dental dams were small, thick, and didn't allow for much sensation.

Fortunately, Glyde Health manufactured a sex-specific version in 1994 after receiving FDA approval. In addition, the Glyde Dam was much thinner than the original version, so it allows users to still feel stimulation if you use one while receiving oral sex. You can also buy other brands in stores, online, or even get them for free at a health clinic.

How to Use Dental Dams

Did you know you can get an STD in the mouth if you don't use protection during oral sex? Educating yourself on different forms of protection, like how to use dental dams, can protect you from an oral STD. Also, a dental dam isn't the same as a female condom. A female condom goes inside the vagina, whereas a dental dam lies over the vulva or anus.

You may be wondering, “How does a dental dam stay in place?” Using a dental dam is very simple. First, take it out of the package and unfold it. Next, rub a small amount of water- or silicone-based lubricant on your partner's genitals (this also helps prevent the rubber from tearing) and then lay the dental dam flat over the top. You may also need to hold it in place with your hands. Avoid oral contact with any uncovered area during oral sex.

Dos and Don'ts of Using a Dental Dam on the Vagina

If you're going to have sex, you owe it to yourself to use protection correctly. Don't worry—we've got all the most important dos and don'ts right here on how to use dental dams:

The Dos of Using Dental Dams:

  • DO read the instructions on the package and check the expiration date before using a dental dam.
  • DO store your dental dams in a dry, cool place.
  • DO use a brand-new dental dam every time.
  • DO use a silicone- or water-based lubricant first to keep the dental dam in place and prevent breakage.
  • DO check for holes or tears in the dental dam before using it. If it's broken, throw it away.
  • DO put a dental dam on every time you have oral sex and keep it in place the entire time.
  • DO try using flavored dental dams if you're squeamish about the taste.

The Don'ts of Using Dental Dams

  • DON'T flip the dental dam over during oral sex after using one side.
  • DON'T stretch out the dental dam, as doing so could cause tears in the material.
  • DON'T make a dental dam out of a condom you have already used.
  • DON'T flush a used dental dam; throw it in the garbage can instead.
  • DON'T use oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly or baby oil; they can create holes in the dental dam.
  • DON'T use the spermicide nonoxynol-9 on a dental dam, as it could cause tiny holes or tears.

How to Make a Dental Dam

If you don't have an “official” dental dam, you can create one in a pinch by cutting a square shape out of a latex glove, condom (unused!), or non-porous plastic wrap.

Condom: Take a non-lubricated condom, cut off the tip, then cut vertically up the side to create a square.

Glove: Take a latex or plastic glove and cut the fingers off (you can leave the thumb if you want). Then, starting with the pinky finger side, cut from the wrist to the top of the glove.

Plastic Wrap: Cut out a large square. If you're going to use plastic wrap, choose the non-porous kind. Typically, that's the kind you can't microwave. Still, any form of protection is better than nothing at all.

STDs That You Can Prevent by Using Dental Dams

Getting an STD from oral sex in your mouth or throat is entirely possible if you skip out on using protection. If you don't use a dental dam during oral sex, you put yourself at risk of getting any STD that spreads via skin-to-skin contact.

At Rapid STD Testing, we want you to be well-informed regarding your sex life. That's why we offer fast, accurate, and confidential STD testing. Just come into our nearest location, and you'll have your results in one to three days.

Here are some STDs that you can prevent by using dental dams:

  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)

What Doesn't a Dental Dam Protect Against?

A dental dam doesn't protect against every STD, particularly if your mouth comes into contact with unprotected skin, such as around the edges of the dam. Here are the STDs you can still catch despite using a dental dam:

Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2): You can catch herpes even if your partner isn't showing visible symptoms. However, you can also get it if your partner has an open sore the dental dam doesn't cover.

Scabies: These tiny mites spread via regular skin-to-skin contact or through clothing.

Pubic lice (crabs): Pubic lice can spread from skin-to-skin contact and through clothing.

Genital warts: If your partner has genital warts, you could catch HPV if your mouth comes into contact with one outside of the dental dam.

If you have sexual contact with one or more partners, you should also get regular STD tests. Luckily, it's very simple. At Rapid STD Testing, we offer a full 10-panel STD test you can order right now on our website. After you give us a quick cheek swab or urine sample, you'll have results in 24 to 72 hours. So when you need a rapid STD test, we've got you covered.

Visit a Rapid STD Testing Center Today

Hopefully, we've now answered your question, “What is a dental dam?” This thin piece of latex or polyurethane can help protect you and your partner from transmitting STDs during oral sex. You can also keep yourself protected by getting regular STD tests. Order your testing panel right now on the Rapid STD Testing website and stay in control of your sexual health.


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By: RSC Editorial Team
March 7, 2022

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