What causes drooling? 15 possible conditions
What Is Drooling?
Drooling is defined as saliva flowing outside of your mouth unintentionally. It’s often a result of weak or underdeveloped muscles around your mouth or having too much saliva.
The glands that make your saliva are called the salivary glands. You have six of these glands, located on the bottom of your mouth, in your cheeks, and near your front teeth. These glands typically make 2 to 4 pints of saliva a day. When these glands make too much saliva, you may experience drooling.
Drooling is normal in the first two years of life. Infants don’t often develop full control of swallowing and the muscles of the mouth until they are between 18 and 24 months old. Babies might also drool when they’re teething. Drooling can occur in people who have neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy as well.
Causes and Risk Factors for Drooling
Drooling can be a symptom of a medical condition, developmental delay, or a result of taking certain medications. Anything that leads to excessive saliva production, difficulty swallowing, or problems with muscle control may lead to drooling.
Drooling begins after birth and peaks between 3 and 6 months as infants become more active. This is normal, especially when going through the teething process, so you shouldn’t worry.
Diets high in acidic content often cause excessive saliva production.
Certain medical conditions can put you at risk for drooling. If a disease that decreases control of facial muscles affects you, you are more likely to drool. Neurologic disorders such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or stroke may cause muscle weakness that affects the ability to close the mouth and swallow saliva.
Drooling is usually caused by excess saliva in the mouth. Medical conditions such as acid reflux and pregnancy can increase saliva production. Allergies, tumors, and above-the-neck infections such as strep throat, tonsil infection, and sinusitis can all impair swallowing.
How Is Drooling Treated?
Drooling isn’t always treated. Your doctor usually won’t recommend any treatment for someone under the age of 4 or who drools during sleep.
Treatment may be recommended when drooling is severe. Drooling may be considered severe if saliva drips from your lip to your clothing or your drooling interferes with your daily activities and creates social problems. Excessive drooling can also lead to inhaling saliva into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia.
Treatment options are looked at on a case-by-case basis, but generally your doctor will perform an assessment and come up with the management plan that works best for you.
The noninvasive approach includes trying things such as medication, oral motor therapy, and pharmacological therapy. In more serious cases, you and your doctor may consider a more invasive approach, including treatment options such as surgery and radiotherapy.
Speech and occupational therapists help teach positioning and posture control to help improve lip closure and swallowing. Your therapist will work with you on improving muscle tone and saliva control. Therapists may also suggest that you see a dietitian to modify the amount of acidic foods in your diet.
A special device placed in the mouth helps with lip closure during swallowing. An oral prosthetic device such as a chin cup or dental appliances may help with lip closure as well as tongue position and swallowing. This option works best if you have some swallowing control.
Certain medications help reduce saliva production. Medications include:
- Scopolamine, which comes as a patch and is placed on your skin to deliver the medication slowly throughout the day. Each patch lasts for 72 hours.
- Glycopyrrolate, which is given as an injection or in the form of a pill. Robinul decreases your saliva production but can cause dry mouth as a result.
- Atropine sulfate, given as drops in the mouth; usually used for patients during end-of-life care when they are having difficulties with drooling.
Botox injections may help reduce symptoms of drooling by tightening facial muscles.
Several procedures are approved for the treatment of drooling. The most common is a procedure that reroutes the salivary ducts to the back of the mouth to prevent drooling outside of the mouth. Another procedure removes your salivary glands completely.
What Is the Outlook for Drooling?
In children, drooling is a normal part of development. But if you notice excessive drooling or have any other concerns, you should always consult your child’s doctor.
There are many medical conditions that cause drooling, so you should consult your doctor if you notice that you’re drooling excessively or uncontrollably. Many problems can be easily controlled with therapy or medication, but some conditions may require more serious treatment and highlight a more serious medical condition. Following a healthy diet and listening to your body can help to alleviate some problems. For anything serious, your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan.
- Baumann, R. (2010). Cerebral palsy. Magill’s Medical Guide, 6th ed. Pasadena, CA: SalemPress.
- Bavikatte, G., Lin Sit, P., & Hassoon, A. (2012. March). Management of drooling of saliva. British Journal of Medical Practitioners, 5(1), a507. Retrieved from http://www.bjmp.org/content/management-drooling-saliva
- Blasco, P. (2010). The treatment of drooling. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 52(11), 984.
- Familydoctor.org Editorial Staff. (2014, March). Heartburn: Causes and risk factors. Retrieved from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/heartburn/causes-risk-factors.html
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/gi/esophageal/gerd/
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, July 30). Stroke: Overview. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/home/ovc-20117264
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, July 30). Stroke: Symptoms and causes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/dxc-20117265
- What is Parkinson’s disease? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/movement_disorders/conditions/parkinsons_disease.html
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