Before getting intimate with someone, you may do a quick self-body scan: How do your pits smell? Are your hands cold? How’s your breath? That sort of thing. And sometimes—if you happen to be at home—a quick brushing of your teeth may be in order to help you feel fresh and ready for business. (It’s definitely a courtesy, especially when you’re going mouth-to-mouth.) But, when it comes to oral sex and dental health, there’s a connection that’s not discussed often enough. According to a dentist and medical doctors, brushing your teeth before and after giving oral sex on both a penis or vagina can have health implications.
First know that if you cut your gums while brushing your teeth—which is a common thing that can happen while flossing and brushing—you could make yourself more susceptible to contracting certain diseases and infections. “When it comes to oral sex, STIs are easily transmitted if you have mouth sores or your gums bleed when you brush your teeth,” says Erika Schwartz, MD, an internist who specializes in disease prevention. “Any areas of the body where the integrity of the skin or mucosal surface is broken—cut in the mouth, scratch on the skin—increases risk of getting sick if the area isn’t cleaned, and your immune system isn’t in good shape.”
“When it comes to oral sex, STIs are easily transmitted if you have mouth sores or your gums bleed when you brush your teeth.” —Erika Schwartz, MD
But that doesn’t mean you can’t safely tend to your dental health before engaging in oral sex play. “[I] recommend using a sonic toothbrush to avoid this excessive pressure,” says Vanessa Creaven, DMD, dentist and co-founder of Spotlight Oral Care. Flossing can also cause gum bleeding when floss is forced between the teeth and pushed down into the gum tissue, she adds. “To avoid this, take care [to be extra-gentle] when flossing between the teeth, particularly the upper posterior teeth or, alternatively, use a water flosser.”
Regardless of whether you brush up or not, the pros recommend you do a mouth check before giving oral sex. Make sure you don’t have sores, wounds, gum disease, ulcers, cuts, herpes, or infections in your mouth. And even if you don’t—and you don’t bleed from any pre-oral sex dental health care—the pros still recommend using a form of protection, such as a dental dam or a condom, especially if you are with a new partner or have not been tested since becoming monogamous with a current partner.
“The truth is, if your partner has chlamydia, herpes, HPV, gonorrhea, or syphilis, and you give them oral sex, you can potentially get any of these STIs in your throat, with or without a cut or open wound in your mouth,” says Sherry A. Ross, MD, an OB/GYN, women’s health expert, and author of She-ology. “The only way to [lower the risk of contracting] some of these common STIs is to have your partner wear a condom or dental dam during oral sex.” If you find something during your mouth check? Skip the trip downtown and have it looked at by a medical professional.
And what about brushing after giving oral? Because, well, it just might not be a taste you want to keep in your mouth all day. “We generally advise not to brush or floss immediately before oral sex to minimize the risk of creating any trauma or open wounds to the gum tissue, which could promote the spread of any potential STI,” says Dr. Creaven. “Following oral sex, consider rinsing your mouth with an anti-bacterial mouthwash.” That way, you can have a fresh mouthfeel while still playing it safe.
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