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Excessive Saliva (Ptyalism): What It Could Mean (and What to Do About It)

When someone uses the phrase “mouth-watering,” it’s usually a compliment! But if your mouth is literally watering, that’s a little different. Excessive saliva (also known as ptyalism or hypersalivation) can cause you discomfort and embarrassment, and might also lead to other complications. Find out what causes excessive saliva and how to treat it.

What is Saliva and What is Its Purpose?

Saliva is a clear fluid that contains water, electrolytes, proteins, cells and various other components. It helps to keep the surface of your teeth strong by depositing calcium and fluoride into the tooth enamel, washes away food debris and bacteria, and maintains the ideal pH balance in your mouth. In doing so, saliva helps to protect you against problems like tooth decay, cavities, acid erosion, sensitivity, and infections like gum disease. Saliva is not just important for tooth and gum health; it starts the digestion process with special enzymes that break down your food, and then softens and lubricates the food so that you can swallow it easily. For those reasons, reduced saliva flow (known as dry mouth) can increase the risk of dental problems like cavities and can also cause issues with swallowing and digestion. However, too much saliva can be a cause for concern, too.

Causes of Excessive Saliva

Drooling in infants and toddlers is normal and may often happen while they’re teething. Drooling or hypersalivation in adults, however, is usually associated with infections or nervous system disorders.


  • Hypersalivation in adults is primarily caused by:
  • Infections like strep throat, tonsillitis, sinusitis, or mononucleosis.
  • Allergies.
  • Heartburn or GERD.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Use of certain medicines.
  • Reaction to pesticide poisoning or snake or insect venom.
  • Nervous system disorders that cause difficulty with swallowing, like cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Some people who have excessive saliva are at an increased risk of aspirating saliva, food, or fluid into their lungs. This can be especially dangerous if they're facing difficulties with bodily reflexes like coughing or gagging. Over time, excessive saliva can also cause skin problems around the chin and lip area.

How to Treat Excessive Saliva

Treatment for excessive saliva depends on your overall health and other symptoms that you may be having. It is best accomplished by a multidisciplinary team, including professionals such as primary care physicians, speech therapists, neurologists, and dentists. If you find yourself having excessive saliva in your mouth, it’s essential to consult with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan.

This may include interventions like speech and swallowing therapy, medications, Botox, and use of oral prosthetic devices, among others. MedlinePlus notes that a speech therapist can determine if hypersalivation increases the risk of breathing foods or fluids into your lungs.

Having excessive saliva can be quite uncomfortable, so you should seek out treatment as soon as possible. Consult with your doctor to find a treatment plan that manages the excessive saliva and makes you feel comfortable and confident again.