Fear of saliva is a contamination obsession experienced by people with obsession-compulsive disorder (OCD), a disorder where people are plagued with dominant, unceasing thoughts about miscellaneous and often benign targets of their hyper-focus. Such people may fear not just their own saliva but the saliva from other people and pets. Usually having more than simply the isolated fear of saliva, contamination-obsessed people frequently have phobias of all bodily fluids and waste products, including feces, blood, urine, and other excretions. Saliva phobia includes the fear of substances that have saliva residue, such as discarded chewing gum or chewed pencils.
A person with OCD may spend an overwhelming amount of time reflecting on saliva, analyzing its look and feel as well as checking for excess saliva in the mouth and on objects. People with a fear of saliva may also devote excess attention to planning rituals and strategies to manage and rid the mouth and environment of saliva. Such routines may include scheduled spitting or elaborate oral rinses as well as perpetual cleansing or discarding of items that have touched saliva, including eating utensils. Those suffering from anxiety about saliva often avoid licking stamps and handling things that have been inside the mouths of others, including pencils or thermometers; they also avoid being near others’ utensils, mouthpieces or pillowcases. For many with saliva phobia, this obsessive behavior is uncontrollable without mediation and psychological counseling.
Psychological studies suggest people with OCD may develop a fear of saliva due to concerns over bacteria in the milky substance secreted by salivary glands. Contamination obsessions often arise from a heightened desire to avoid germs and diseases. Many sufferers of this fear often believe that they can become severely ill from saliva, while others do not speculate on the consequences of being exposed to saliva but simply on the saliva’s presence and physical qualities. Far beyond a simple annoyance, anxiety about saliva for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder may lead to panic attacks, emotional trauma, a reduced ability to interact with others and a complete disruption of daily living.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common treatment for the fear of saliva. It includes reducing the frequency of rituals and learning ways to manage stress related to avoiding those rituals. During treatment, therapists practicing CBT often have patients face their fear of saliva by recording audio or written notes of their persistent contemplations on saliva. Prescription medications may also be used to mitigate anxiety.