Drooling, or dribbling, is the unintentional loss of saliva from the mouth.
It occurs in infants, but as the infant gets older it usually decreases. Daytime drooling stops within the first few years of life, though older children may still drool during sleep. Beyond the age of about 4 years, it is unusual, unless there is an underlying medical problem.
Why drooling occurs
Drooling beyond infancy may occur in some medical conditions such as:
when there is inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth
or as a reaction to some medications, which cause an increase in saliva
In some conditions, including Cerebral Palsy, drooling is usually related to:
abnormalities in swallowing rather than to absence of swallowing
difficulties moving saliva to the back of the throat
poor mouth closure
Drooling is not usually caused by an excess of saliva as is sometimes thought. Instead it has been found that there is a tendency to swallow less frequently than normal. It can be made worse by a lack of head control and poor posture, lack of sensation around the mouth, breathing through the mouth, excitement and impaired concentration.
Who is vulnerable to drooling
Drooling can occur in:
many children with a motor or neurological impairment (it can affect one third of people with Cerebral Palsy)
A variety of techniques can treat drooling. Some are more successful than others, but treatment will depend upon the cause. For example, someone with a severe learning difficulty is not likely to benefit from a training programme that demands a high level of co-operation and personal input. Equally, surgery for removal or re-siting of salivary glands would not be appropriate for someone who may have a nasal obstruction, which is a major contributor. A ENT (ear, nose and throat) examination is necessary to identify the causes before choosing a treatment.
Treatments can include:
rewarding or prompting to encourage swallowing
surgery, where salivary glands are usually turned towards the back of the mouth so that saliva runs towards the back rather than the front of the mouth
exercises to increase muscle tone, improve oral-motor function and improve sensory awareness