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  • Lexi Langlois, MA, SLP-CFY

Understanding Drooling: A Guide for Parents

baby smiling with saliva on chin

The Role of Saliva: More Than Just Moisture

Saliva plays crucial roles in oral health and function beyond simply keeping the mouth moist. It lubricates food to aid in chewing and swallowing, facilitates speech by moistening oral structures like the tongue and lips, helps regulate oral pH, enhances taste perception, and contributes to oral hygiene.


What is Drooling?

Drooling refers to the unintentional loss of saliva from the mouth. While it's considered typical in infants up to 18 months old, prolonged drooling beyond the age of 4 years is often seen as abnormal. It can be associated with conditions like Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities, or neurological impairments.


Causes of Persistent Drooling

Persistent drooling can stem from various factors, including:

  • Lack of awareness of external salivary loss.

  • Inadequate lip closure or open mouth posture.

  • Impaired sensation in the mouth and throat.

  • Abnormal tongue and lip movements or low muscle tone.

  • Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia).

  • Certain medications such as clonazepam.

  • Poor posture, dental problems, or mouthing of objects.


Why Drooling Matters

Beyond its physical aspects, drooling can have social implications for children and their families. It may cause skin irritation, necessitate frequent changes of clothes or the use of bibs, and lead to messy eating experiences.


When Should Therapy Be Considered?

Therapy for drooling may be necessary if it persists past the age of 4 and is accompanied by issues like speech delay, feeding difficulties, or sensory sensitivities. Early intervention can help address underlying causes and improve a child's quality of life.


How Therapy Can Help

Pediatric speech therapy can effectively manage drooling by:

  • Addressing underlying issues through occupational or physical therapy.

  • Increasing awareness of saliva and oral movements.

  • Eliminating mouthing behaviors.

  • Improving eating skills and promoting proper lip closure.


Tips for Managing Drooling at Home

Parents can support therapy efforts with simple exercises and techniques, such as:

  • Lip closure exercises: Encouraging activities like blowing raspberries, blowing musical instruments, or using a straw for drinking.

  • Using devices: Utilizing tools like vibrating toothbrushes to increase oral awareness and discourage inappropriate mouth behaviors.

  • Verbal and visual cues: Providing cues like "swallow and wipe," using mirrors to show when the face is wet, or employing stickers or auditory cues to prompt swallowing.

  • Environmental adaptations: Using scarves, waterproof bibs, or vests to minimize the impact of drooling on clothing.


When to Seek Further Help

If drooling remains severe despite these efforts, surgical management may be considered. Consulting with a pediatrician or a pediatric speech therapist can provide more information and guidance tailored to your child's needs.


Conclusion

Drooling is a manageable condition that, when persistent, may indicate underlying developmental or neurological issues. With early detection and appropriate therapy, children can improve their oral control, enhance their social interactions, and enjoy a more comfortable daily life. For more personalized advice and strategies, don't hesitate to reach out to a qualified pediatric speech therapist.

Remember, each child is unique, and therapy should be tailored to their specific needs. By working together, we can help children overcome challenges associated with drooling and thrive in their development.

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