It’s time to talk about….dental dams

A girl can’t get pregnant from giving or receiving oral sex (even if she swallows sperm, which is a common myth) but both girls and guys can get most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from oral sex.  In fact, it’s possible to get many STIs in the mouth or throat from giving oral sex to a partner who has a genital infection, and it works the other way too. Many STIs do not cause symptoms but if left untreated the STI can cause major problems later. Chlamydia is one of those tricky STIs that can be “silent,” meaning there may be no symptoms. Women who have genital chlamydia may not have any symptoms until the infection turns into a serious condition called “pelvic inflammatory disease,” a severe infection of a woman’s reproductive organs, which often causes future fertility problems (trouble getting pregnant). Likewise people who have chlamydia of the mouth and throat don’t usually have symptoms either. If they do, they usually complain of a sore throat.

Enter “dental dams. If you’ve seen a dentist recently, you may know what a dental dam looks and feels like. Dentists and hygienists use them kind of like a drape so only the teeth they are working on are visible. They are made of latex or polyurethane and they’re usually shaped like a square. They come in different colors and they are stretchy. The dental dam shields and protects the rest of the mouth, and they can also be used as a barrier to prevent STIs.

Brilliant Idea! I’m not sure who came up with the idea of using dental dams as a “barrier” to prevent sharing STIs during oral sex, but it’s brilliant! During vaginal oral sex, the dental dam is held over the vulva covering the vaginal opening, clitoris and labia. For anal oral sex, the dental dam is placed over the anus. When dental dams are used correctly from the beginning to the end of oral sex, it dramatically lowers the risk of getting or giving an (oral) STI, big time!

You can buy dental dams in a pharmacy or online, or you can make them from condoms, but they will only work if you:

  • Read the package insert first and check the expiration date
  • Make sure the dental dam doesn’t have any rips or tears
  • Use a dental dam from the beginning to the end of oral sex
  • Use a new dental dam each time you have oral sex
  • Don’t stretch the dental dam as it may break
  • Don’t use oils or lotions on the dental dam as this may cause breakage
  • Don’t flush the dental dam down the toilet. Place it in the original wrapping and throw it away in a wastebasket.

Regular condoms (uncut) and not lubricated should be used over a males penis during oral sex.

It’s time that we talked about oral sex and ways to prevent STIs of the mouth and throat with our partners and friends. Let’s get the word out that dental dams are very effective in preventing the spread of STIs through oral sex!

-Nurse Phaedra


Find out more about how to use dental dams as a barrier for oral sex (pics included) at the CDC, or by checking out our newest health guide!