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Drooling, Excessive


What is excessive drooling?

Drooling is the unintentional loss of saliva from the mouth. It is normal for babies to drool. As babies grow and mature, they are better able to manage their saliva. Most children don't drool when awake or asleep after the age of 4 years. However, children with neurological problems (such as mental retardation or cerebral palsy) have difficulty making their muscles and nerves work properly. They have trouble swallowing saliva. Drooling is frequently seen in these children at older ages.

Why should drooling be controlled?

Drooling can irritate the skin of the face, neck, and chest. It can also be embarrassing to the child.

What are the benefits of saliva?

Saliva is almost all water. There are small amounts of other substances, such as electrolytes (salts) and mucous which help the mouth and body. The mucous helps protect the throat and esophagus from injury during eating. Saliva also helps recoat the teeth with calcium. It helps keep gums healthy. It helps remove bacteria from inside the mouth and decreases breath odor. Saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that begins the digestion of starches.

What is the cause of drooling?

Saliva comes from three pairs of salivary glands, plus many smaller glands. All of these are found in the mouth.

Drooling occurs because the saliva is not swallowed and flows out of the mouth. This usually occurs from improper, inefficient, or infrequent swallowing. These problems are usually the result of trouble controlling the muscles involved with swallowing. Drooling may also be making too much saliva or from teeth that do not fit together properly.

How is it treated?

The problem of excessive drooling can be treated in several ways:

  1. Speech therapy

    A speech therapist can help your child learn to close the lips, move the saliva to the back of the mouth, and swallow. Learning to use a straw for fluids can improve drooling. Speech therapy is the preferred way to correct drooling. Helping your child learn the correct way to swallow solves the problem better than increasing the frequency of swallowing, although the latter does help a little. Improving posture and body position can also be helpful. While your child is taking speech therapy, medications are usually used for immediate improvement.

  2. Medicines

    The salivary glands are under the control of a part of the nervous system called the autonomic system. The medicines listed below cause the body to make less saliva by inhibiting the part of the autonomic system known as the parasympathetic system. This part of the nervous system also helps regulate urine output and stomach emptying.

    • Glycopyrrolate is available as a pill. It can be given by mouth or crushed and put through a gastrostomy site. This medicine does not cause sleepiness or mood changes.
    • Trihexyphenidyl hydrochloride comes in either liquid or tablet form.
    • Benztropine mesylate comes in tablet form. It can be crushed and either given by mouth or put down a gastrostomy tube.
  3. Surgery/Botulinum injection/Radiotherapy
    • Surgery involves either changing the direction of the ducts which lead from the salivary glands to the mouth, or removing the salivary gland tissue.

      Laser surgery has recently been used. This treatment allows a quicker recovery than regular surgery.

    • Botulinum Toxin A injections are done under anesthesia. The toxin is injected into the parotid gland. This treatment lasts up to 8 months.
    • Radiotherapy, or use of X-rays, to destroy part of the salivary glands is only used in severe cases and not usually used in children.
  4. Alternative Therapies

    An occupational therapist may be helpful if your child is upset about drooling.

    Biofeedback and hypnotherapy have been used in some people with varying amounts of success.

  5. Bibs

    Don't forget that bibs are helpful to protect skin and clothing. The use of bandannas, or a bib that matches the shirt or dress, especially in older children, can make the bib less noticeable or add a fashion accent.

How can I take care of my child?

You need the medicine prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Call your child's healthcare provider immediately if:

  • Your child is not able to urinate.
  • Your child develops a rash, increased fussiness, or has stomach cramps.

Written by Edra B. Weiss, MD, pediatrician on staff at The Children's Hospital, Denver, CO.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-07-08

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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