Parents often wonder if it’s normal for their child to drool. You might notice your child’s toys are covered with saliva after playing, or you may notice a soaked shirt-collar throughout the day. The short answer to the question “Is drooling normal?” is “sometimes.” At certain points in your child’s development, drooling is completely typical. At other points in his development, it is atypical and may require further intervention.
Developmental stages of drooling:
According to Morris & Klein in Pre-Feeding Skills, Second Edition, the following stages of drooling can be expected as your child develops:
- One – three months: From one to three months of age, drooling is rare when your child is in a supine or reclining position (lying face-up), although some drooling may be noted when he is in a prone or a supported sitting position.
- Six months: By six months of age, drooling is more controlled when your child is in supine, prone or seated. However, you may notice drooling as your child babbles or uses his hands to play, point or reach for objects. Drooling may also be noted as your child is teething or in response to eating particular foods.
- Nine months: By nine months of age, drooling rarely occurs during gross motor activities, such as crawling or rolling. You may still notice drooling in response to teething.
- Fifteen months: By fifteen months of age, drooling rarely occurs during gross motor activities, such as walking and running, although you may notice some drooling during fine motor tasks, such as stacking blocks or manipulating objects. Drooling may also continue in response to teething.
- Eighteen months: By eighteen months of age, your child no longer drools when attempting fine motor tasks. However, drooling may occur during feeding, dressing, play, or teething.
- Twenty-four months: By twenty-four months of age, noted drooling is minimal.
Why children drool:
Saliva serves many necessary functions. It helps bind food together as we eat, which is important for safe swallowing. Saliva also aids in the digestion of food and helps keeps our oral cavity clean. For the average child, unnecessary loss of saliva stops around age 4. For other children, however, drooling may be excessive.
According to Morris & Klein in Pre-Feeding Skills, Second Edition, the following possible causes of excess drooling might include:
- Teething, which results in more saliva production.
- Poor oral sensory awareness, resulting in decreased triggering of swallowing. If a child’s face is constantly wet, he may be less responsive to sensory cues that signal a need to swallow.
- A constant open-mouth posture, which prevents saliva from building up and triggering swallowing as needed.
- Difficulty swallowing efficiently, which may be due to poor head and trunk control, poor jaw stability, or increased or decreased muscle tone in the lips.
- A response to certain foods.
- A response to motor activities that require balance.
- A possible side effect from specific medications.
How to help your child if he is drooling excessively:
If you feel concerned about the frequency and amount of your child’s drooling, seek help from a licensed speech-language pathologist, feeding therapist, or occupational therapist. Your child’s therapist will help you determine the underlying cause of your child’s drooling and specific ways to intervene.
Therapeutic interventions for excessive drooling might include the following:
- Increasing oral-sensory awareness to help your child better assess when his face or mouth is wet.
- Improving head and trunk control to achieve better control of efficient swallowing.
- Improving oral-motor control (i.e. lips, cheeks, jaw) to better manage saliva and efficient swallowing.
- Helping your child achieve a closed mouth posture.
- Improving your child’s ability to swallow.
- Teaching your child about concepts such as “wet” and “dry.”
By working with a licensed professional, you can eliminate the uncertainty you might be feeling and find answers to your questions. Most importantly, your child will receive the help he needs to better manage his drooling.
Morris & Klein. (2000). Pre-Feeding Skills, Second Edition. Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.