Parents of toddlers often wonder why their their kiddos drool so much—especially when it appears that they have many of their teeth and the issue can’t obviously be blamed on teething. (Generally a child has all of their 20 “baby” teeth in the mouth by age two and a half to three.)

But fear not: Drooling is actually a normal occurrence in children before the development of and control of their muscles around the mouth and lips. Part of that control means children can feel the wetness around the mouth and chin, swallow frequently to regulate the saliva buildup, close their lips and ultimately have the ability to control salivary suction. This involves quite a bit if you look at all the steps that are involved in curbing drooling. It usually happens around age two, but the delay in this development is not considered a problem until after age four.

Saliva serves several purposes, including the following:

  • lubricating the mouth for chewing,
    swallowing and speech
  • washing away debris
  • preventing tooth decay by buffering
    acids in the mouth
  • aiding in digestion

Too much saliva, however, can cause persistent wetness of the mouth and chin leading to skin irritations and possible infections, wetness and staining of clothing, and may become a potential embarrassment as the child gets older.

Children who have neurologic impairments may show delays in this whole process. Excessive drooling in an otherwise typically developing child may be due to an abnormal oral sensitivity, with or without a delay in the muscle control. Less commonly it is due to excess production of saliva. Other causes may include oral infections, nasal obstructions and medications. The incidence of chronic excessive drooling is about 0.6 percent.

To help deal with the excess drooling, you may need to keep absorbent bibs or wristbands on your child to help to control the wetness. Some young children are simply unaware of the drooling. If the problem becomes worrisome to you, talk to your doctor; they might suggest a referral to a speech pathologist, dentist or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who can assess your child’s needs and help develop a plan.

Originally published in ParentsCanada, July 2012.