All babies and young childen dribble or drool until they learn to swallow their own saliva, and it’s an important part of their development: saliva helps keep the mouth clean and enables us all to swallow food and to talk. By eighteen months or two years, most kids are growing out of it, but for others the problem carries on into the toddler years and beyond, and it can be awkward and embarrassing for them and you.
The first thing to think about if your child is drooling excessively is whether there is a specific cause. Teething makes kids dribble, for example, and at times when they are concentrating hard on something else – playing, for example – they can lose the self-awareness that enables them to swallow back saliva. Colds, a blocked nose and any activity that involves your child dipping his head down can also cause dribbling.
If none of these things seems to apply and your child is still dribbling a lot by the time they reach four, it’s worth mentioning the fact to your doctor and, if necessary, your child can be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, or a speech therapist, who can look more closely at the way your child uses his mouth, how well he forms shapes with his lips and tongue, and then assess whether dribbling might be a symptom of something else.
In the meantime, there are plenty of everyday things you can do to try and prevent heavy dribbling. When you see drool starting to dribble out of the mouth, gently ask your child to put his head back. Kids won’t actually swallow back saliva until it reaches the back of their throat, where it triggers a reflex. Don’t always wipe it away from their chin, but wait until they become aware of it themselves. Persuading kids to close their mouths rather than letting them hang open will also help to trigger the natural swallowing reflex.
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