Drooling is a common occurrence in young children. Infants have less volitional control over their head and neck area in general, and drooling is a common side effect of that lack of control. Though often subsiding around a few months of age, drooling picks up again as babies start teething. Saliva contains enzymes that helps fight bacteria in the mouth, which is vital during the time when teeth are cutting through the gums.
As toddlers finish cutting their teeth, drooling usually subsides considerably. However, some children are lacking the sensations that allow them to swallow appropriately when secretions build up in their mouth. Though they may have no trouble swallowing during eating and drinking, excess saliva may not trigger the swallowing function properly if this sensory skill is lacking.
Excessive drooling may also be a result of decreased control of the lips and oral muscles. Some practitioners will suggest oral-motor exercises to help the child control the contents of their mouth. Increased lip strength may help keep the saliva in the mouth, while increased tongue strength also allows them to push the saliva toward the back of their mouths, therefore encouraging more frequent swallowing and decreased drooling.
How can occupational therapy help?
Occupational therapists are trained professionals who strive to ensure that people of all ages are participating in life to their fullest capacity. OTs work with children who have trouble controlling their saliva through sensory treatment, or oral-motor strengthening treatment.
Speech-language pathologists are also skilled in oral-motor therapy, as a lack of motoric control or sensory responsiveness in the mouth can greatly affect speech. It is important to explore the ideal of treatment early on so that any negative long-term effects can be avoided.
What Can I do at Home?
Consulting with a trained professional, whether it be an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist, or your child’s pediatrician, is the first step in determining if any sort of formal or informal intervention may be necessary to reduce your child’s drooling. But there are things you can do at home to help increase your child’s oral sensations to encourage control of their saliva:
• Encourage your child to take small sips of liquid frequently throughout the day. This will help them practice the act of swallowing and could increase their ability to automatically trigger it.
• Try an electric toothbrush! This oral stimulation may help “wake up” their mouths, making them more aware of it.
• Oral exercises, like using a straw or making silly faces with the mouth and tongue, can help strengthen the musculature of the mouth to help control its contents (like food and saliva) for proper swallowing.