Drooling is supposed to stop when a child finishes teething. So what do you do when your 3 year old is way past that stage…and still drooling? It’s time to address it!
My first question for you as mom or dad (and remember this is a judgment free zone) is does your child brush their teeth regularly? Why do I ask this? Because some parents have to choose which battles they want to fight and often times parents of children with Autism for example, choose not fight the “we need to brush your teeth twice a day” battle.
So this is step 1. Helping your child learn to brush their teeth (either on their own or with your help). Ideally, we would want them to do this after every meal (to help with decreasing the drooling) but as often as is realistic works, too.
Step 2. Get an electronic toothbrush (they make kiddie ones for under $5). Let your kiddo go with you to the store to pick it out so you have their full buy in and they can choose their “character” if those choices are available. This step will help if you have trouble getting your little one to brush their teeth. Vibrating toothbrushes are fabulous because they wake up or stimulate the mouth. When you have a kiddo that is still drooling at 3, they have been drooling for so long that they are unaware of it! They don’t feel the drool and we need to help them wake up their mouths so they can start to feel it (and ultimately so they can control it).
Step 3. Start helping them realize their mouth, face and/or chin areas are wet. As we mentioned they are not feeling it since they have been drooling for quite some time now. Before you start to ask your kiddo if their mouth or chin is wet or dry, be sure to make sure they understand the concept (compare wet and dry items as a game and see if they can point to or label them as wet/dry correctly). You can use a mirror or iPad/phone camera to help them see the drool (while trying to help them begin to feel it). Once they understand this, you can start asking them to “wipe your mouth” or “wipe your chin” so they start to realize how much drool is leaving their mouth while giving them some control over the drool!
Step 4. Make sure your child has tissues available or a handkerchief/cloth in their pocket that they can use to wipe their face when needed.
Step 5. Seek the advice or help of a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). Why would you need to do this? Well an SLP can help you create a set of oral motor exercises to help strengthen he muscles of the mouth (which will ultimately lead to better control over swallowing the spit and reducing and eventually eliminating the drooling). Ask them to help you create an oral motor plan to do at home (and home exercises may be all that you need so this might be accomplished in just a few sessions if you are awesome about implementing the home program).
What will the SLP do? The SLP will use oral motor exercises to strengthen the jaw, tongue, cheeks and lips. They might show you facial massage exercises, use towels as part of this to wake up the face, and encourage you to introduce different foods (with different flavors, temperatures, textures, etc). They may also use a nuk brush or a z-vibe from Talk Tools. These are just a few of the items out there but amongst my materials I use regularly. There are other exercises the SLP may introduce as well.
Step 6. Ditch the sippy cups! YES, you read that right. Sippy cups were created as a convenience to avoid spills back in the 80s. They serve no purpose for oral development and actually mimic drinking from a bottle so they can keep your kiddo from developing age appropriate oral motor skills! What can you use instead? A child size cup where they have to drink without a lid or if you prefer to avoid as many spills as possible, straw cups are fantastic!
Step 7. What else can I do? Well many SLP’s will recommend other strengthening activities (get ready, these are super fun!) such as: blowing a cotton ball with a straw, blowing bubbles, drinking thicker consistencies through a straw (milkshake, apple sauce, etc), and when your kiddo gets stronger have them try blowing up a balloon (not easy!).
Before you start this process, please take your kiddo to the dentist or the ENT so you can be sure that they aren’t drooling for a reason that the ENT may share with you (e.g., enlarged adenoids, chronic congestion with ears that are not draining properly). And please keep in mind that if you child has a medical diagnosis where drooling is common, some of these strategies may help but there may be other treatments that may be more successful for your kiddo (this is always a great question for their developmental pediatrician and ENT!)
So, does your kiddo drool? Have you tried any of the above steps? Share your experience below.