Chronic (excessive) drooling in children and adolescents
Drooling (also known as ‘dribbling’) is common in babies and young children up to the age of approximately eighteen months as they undergo the developmental process of acquiring salivary control. Most children stop drooling by the time they reach four years old. In children and adolescents with certain neurological conditions (cerebral palsy for example), drooling often continues past the age of four. This could be ‘sialorrhoea’, which means ‘overflowing saliva’. In most cases, sialorrhoea in children is due to limitations of being able to control and swallow oral secretions, in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy this is usually the result of limited oromotor control .1
Around 1 in 5 children and adolescents with cerebral palsy have chronic drooling – this is frequent problematic drooling that affects their health and/or well-being. Chronic drooling can lead to dehydration, urine infections, chest infections and irritated skin around the mouth, neck and chest. Clothes and bibs need to be changed regularly, books and electronic equipment can be damaged, and there may be an unpleasant smell. Older children and young people with chronic drooling may feel embarrassed – chronic drooling can affect their their self-esteem and relationships with others.
Children and adolescents who need help to manage chronic drooling are often offered speech and language therapy. Drooling may be reduced by improving mouth control and teaching sensory awareness to improve swallowing. Where needed, treatment with medicines for chronic drooling can be used. In some cases, injections into salivary glands (where saliva is produced) or surgery may be considered.
- AACPDM, Sialorrhea in Cerebral Palsy. Available online:https://www.aacpdm.org/publications/care-pathways/sialorrhea-in-cerebral-palsy#:~:text=Sialorrhea%20occurs%20in%20approximately%2040,infections%20and%20progressive%20lung%20disease. (last accessed December 2023)