What Your Symptom Is Telling You
Drooling is one of those medically benign (yet socially suicidal) symptoms that doctors just can't figure out. They don't know how to stem the flow.
But if drooling is your problem, knowing that doctors don't know what to do about it is no big help. You may, though, find some comfort in knowing why your faucets won't turn off.
Some women notice a pronounced saliva increase shortly after they become pregnant, says Maureen Van Dinter, R.N., a senior clinical nurse specialist in the Department of Family Medicine and Practice at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The increased salivary flow causes a maddening difficulty in swallowing and speaking until the delivery, when the flow returns to normal as mysteriously as it increased.
"Their cheeks puff up like a chipmunk's because of swollen salivary glands, and the insides of their mouths become very red and irritated," she says. An especially nasty taste often develops, and the women must almost constantly wipe their mouths to prevent saliva from dribbling down their chins.
Little attention has been given to the problem, and over the years, most doctors have dismissed it as psychosomatic, says Van Dinter. "A lot of distress has been caused by telling these women they're crazy, that it's all in their heads," she says. "But It's not in their heads. It's in their mouths."
Excessive spittle can occur after you quit taking certain medications. A whole host of drugs can, as a side effect, dry out your mouth, according to Louis M. Abbey, D.M.D., a professor of oral pathology at Virginia Commonwealth University/Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry in Richmond. "Once you're off the drug, your saliva flow returns to normal, but you feel like your mouth is dripping and gushing," he says.
People who get dentures or a partial for the first time also notice an upturn in their saliva flow, Dr. Abbey says. "The presence of anything in your mouth stimulates saliva production, and some people who receive a complete or partial denture for the first time have the sensation that they're almost drowning in saliva."
Conditions that affect brain-to-body impulses—such as Bell's palsy, Parkinson's disease or a stroke—may impede people's ability to swallow correctly or to keep their upper and lower lips sealed, says Michael W. Dodds, Ph.D., who has a bachelor of dental surgery and is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Many techniques have been tried to slow the flow of saliva, but few actually work, Van Dinter says. With surgery, doctors can redirect the salivary ducts so they drain straight down the throat, but, says Dr. Dodds, "I wouldn't recommend it." Here are some less drastic measures.
Sip or suck. Pregnant women have experimented with all sorts of remedies—lozenges, frequent sips of water, frequent small meals—to handle the excess saliva, eliminate the foul taste and help them swallow. Sometimes they work, but usually they don't, Van Dinter says. Give all of them a try and see if any work for you.
Don't dry out with drugs. Excess saliva isn't serious enough to "cure" with drugs that have dry mouth as a side effect—and that caution goes triple for pregnant women, since the drugs could harm the fetus.