Did you know that our mouths are able to produce 2-4 pints of saliva every single day?
Now imagine that you are not able to control what happens with all that liquid. Excessive drooling that occurs beyond the “cute” stage can be a real problem. It not only impacts a child socially, but is messy, can lead to dehydration, cause skin breakdown, result in infection, soil people and things nearby, and can smell pretty bad.
Most children stop drooling after 18 months or when all of their teeth have come in, but some neuro-typical children will surprisingly continue to drool until they are 4 years old. Drooling is most common in children who suffer from disabilities that impair the nerves or muscles in their throats and mouths. Some examples include Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, head injury, hypotonia, mental retardation, Muscular Dystrophy, seizures, stroke, and/or enlarged tonsils. Many sudden onset illnesses also can cause drooling, so a physician should always be consulted to determine the cause. They may suggest treatments like speech therapy, occupational therapy, biofeedback, medication and/or even surgery.
As I have mentioned, many different conditions can result in the problematic water works, but maybe some specific strategies can tighten the valve if not close it off completely.
To understand how to manage it, let’s investigate it further.
Saliva is produced around the clock in our mouths to aid in speech by providing moisture to the mouth, eating by moistening food, and digestion by beginning the breakdown of food. Drooling occurs when saliva falls from the mouth as a result of an overproduction of saliva and/or problems controlling that saliva inside the mouth. Researchers have proposed four main reasons this might happen:
Some children are not aware that they are losing saliva from their mouth.
Frequency of swallow:
Some children do not swallow often enough.
Efficiency of swallow:
Some children do not clear the mouth efficiently when they swallow.
Poor seal formed when lips are closed:
Some children maintain an open mouth posture or fail to form a tight seal when closing their mouth
These children may need a little help developing the coordination, awareness, and lip strength/flexibility in order to stop or reduce drooling and I have come across some activities which may help do just that.
First, gather some things you will need:
- Cotton balls
- Whistles, horns, kazoos
- Chewy, sour tasting candy**
- Peanut butter**
- Bubble fluid
- Dental floss and life saver shaped candy
- Most of all PATIENCE!
Straws require a child to use lower lip control and develop the facial muscles required to stop drooling. When appropriate, allow the child to drink from a straw, rather than a Sippy cup which can make drooling worse. Make it a fun challenge, like putting pudding or apple sauce in a cup with a straw. Milk shakes work great too. If your child needs help learning to use a straw, try using a juice box. Put the straw in your child’s mouth and squeeze enough to give them a taste of what’s inside.
Whistles are another way for your child to practice the lip control they need to stop drooling. It may not be music to your ears, but the result, a dry child, will make it worthwhile. Some earphones might not be a bad investment for your ears either.
Blow! Cotton Ball races are a great way to help stop drooling and have fun at the same time. Place a cotton ball for each racer on a smooth, flat surface. On your mark! Get set! Blow!!! It’s a great lip exercise disguised as fun.
Blowing Bubbles is another great way to help stop drooling. Again, by practicing lip control, children develop the strength, lip range of motion, and skill required to help with the problem of drooling.
For children without peanut allergies, Peanut butter can be a great tool. Wipe your child’s lower lip free of drool, and smear a little (not enough to choke on) peanut butter on your child’s lower lip. The child then licks the peanut butter off the lower lip. As they lift their lip to get all the peanut butter, they will be performing strengthening and range of motion exercises.
Sucking on a lollipop promotes active lip stretching and lip closure which may reduce drooling.
Chewing is a great activity for those children without swallowing difficulties to increase awareness within the mouth. Add sour flavours for the added POW! Sour flavouring has also been shown to increase the frequency of swallowing as well.
Lace a Life saver type candy with dental floss. While you hold both ends, place the candy inside the child’s mouth and play “tug-of-war”. Instruct the child to close their lips to keep from losing the piece of candy.
Drooling can also be caused by an underlying physical condition, such as enlarged tonsils, or by a facial structure. If your child cannot stop drooling, speak to his or her paediatrician. Sometimes the problem requires more intensive medical intervention. Additionally, swallowing difficulties can result in life threatening problems, so always consult a physician to rule out any complications.