Everyone knows babies and toddlers drool, but is it possible that it’s too much? How much is too much? What does it mean if they drool excessively? These are all common questions for the families of our little ones who noticeably drool regularly. There are times where drool is typical and times where it could be a potential red flag for something more concerning; discerning between the two is important for understanding your child’s development!
During the “teething years,” often beginning around six months of age, “a lot” of drool is expected as saliva is released from the mouth in an effort to soothe the baby’s or toddler’s gums as the teeth break through and keep the baby’s mouth healthy. There are no teeth to block the saliva stream at this point, which leaks from the mouth in the form of drool. This typically ends when children finish teething around two to three years of age. Drooling is also necessary for feeding and digestion as it begins to break down foods in the oral cavity and helps lubricate foods to prepare them for swallowing.
While drooling is part of a natural process, it becomes a concern after teething ends or if it is observed in excess, at which point it may be indicative of atypical development. It can sometimes indicate or be a symptom of feeding or swallowing disorders, decreased oral motor tone (hypotonia), decreased oral motor control and coordination, neurological impairment/disability (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, childhood apraxia of speech, etc.), speech and language delays, fine motor difficulties (if drooling occurs during small tasks that require intense concentration), or even other health concerns (e.g. infections, sore throats, allergies, etc.).
Depending on the underlying cause(s) of your child’s drooling, an interdisciplinary team can assess and often help reduce the drooling of your child. After consulting with a physician to rule out any medical concerns, talking to a dentist may provide more insight to potential structural concerns and subsequent treatment options. For underlying neurological impairments, a team including, but not limited to, a physician, dentist, and speech-language pathologist may be able to provide ongoing treatment plans to address drooling and concurrent concerns. For decreased oral motor strength and control, a speech-language pathologist can often incorporate oral motor exercises into feeding therapy in order to improve muscle strength and movement of the oral structures in and around the mouth. Oftentimes, drooling seen with speech and language delays may also decrease as the child’s awareness and control of oral motor functions increase. They can often benefit from speech and language therapy along with increased verbal and visual cues from caregivers and a speech-language pathologist.
If you have further concerns, contact your local physician, dentist, or speech-language pathologist to discuss if concerns are warranted, to identify potential underlying medical concerns, and to help develop a treatment plan.