What is the S.A.F.E. Technique?

Children can be anxious about visiting the dentist, particularly during those first few appointments. Most of this anxiety comes from a fear of the unknown. Well, Dr. Roya Pilcher addresses this by practicing a technique that Dr. Pilcher developed called S.A.F.E.© It stands for Sequential Approach to Familiarize and Engage pediatric patients. The approach reduces patient anxiety and helps kids understand the instruments we’ll be using and the procedures they’ll be undergoing.

The S.A.F.E. technique is part of Dr. Pilcher commitment to engage and educate their growing patients on proactive ways to keep their teeth clean and healthy. While it may seem simple, the technique is incredibly effective for putting kids at ease and getting them excited about dental visits.

How Does the S.A.F.E. Technique Work?

S.A.F.E. is structured as a game with each step building on the previous step and serving a purpose. Let’s use the example of a 4-year-old patient visiting us for a dental examination and cleaning. Here’s how the S.A.F.E. technique would work in this scenario:


After chatting with the patient, Dr. Roya will ask them if they want to play a game. The doctor will bring out prizes, typically stickers and a toy, and tell the child that after each step, they can earn a sticker and when the steps are complete, they’ll get the larger prize.

Dr. Roya will let the patient point out the sticker they want first and give them a brand new, kid-friendly toothbrush. In order to earn the sticker, the child will show the dentist how they brush their teeth using the toothbrush and answer some questions, such as how often they brush.

To get the next sticker, the patient will let Dr. Roya have a turn brushing their teeth with the toothbrush. This is really just to get the child comfortable with the doctor looking in their mouth. Dr. Roya will have them open wide so they can check their bite and gently brush the front teeth. And, voilà, the little one has earned sticker number two.

To win the third sticker, the doctor will ask if they can count the child’s teeth. First, they’ll count the patient’s fingers. Then, they’ll tell the child that they have special tools that make counting teeth easier like their handy dandy “tooth counter,” a mirror and a light.

They’ll count the child’s fingers with the “tooth counter” and ask if they can show them how the mirror works in their mouth. They’ll then give them sunglasses to wear and show them the light they’ll be using. Once the child is ready, the pediatric dentist will gently count the child’s teeth and talk them through the process in a way that’s lighthearted and fun.


When the child has their third sticker in hand, it’s time for them to earn the bigger prize, usually a small toy like a rubber ducky. Dr. Roya will ask the child if they want to see our electric toothbrush. She’ll turn on the toothbrush so the child can get used to the sound and then let the child feel the toothbrush on their hand. If that’s okay, she’ll demonstrate by brushing a tooth or two.

The child will choose their toothpaste flavor and Dr. Roya will then introduce them to our suction device, “Mr. Thirsty.” Again, She’ll demonstrate the tool on the patient’s hand, so they can see that it doesn’t hurt, and quickly show them how it works in their mouth.

Once the child gives us the go-ahead, the pediatric dentist will perform a gentle but thorough cleaning, all the while encouraging the child, explaining what they’re doing, and giving them pointers on brushing and flossing their own teeth. With their teeth clean, the patient will get to claim their bigger prize.


Finally, Dr. Roya will carefully floss the patient’s teeth and, if indicated, paint on some “tooth vitamins” (fluoride), which earns the kiddo one final sticker to add to their bag of goodies.
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Relaxed Patients

Aside from using the S.A.F.E. technique, Dr. Pilcher also routinely practices yoga and incorporates mindfulness, meditation and relaxation techniques into her daily dentistry practice. She enjoys helping her patients to be comfortable and relaxed during their visits. As a certified children’s yoga instructor, Dr. Pilcher even holds classes in her office after hours for her patients, families and friends to share their love of yoga.

Kids doing yoga

Happy Patients, Healthy Smiles

At our fun, bright pediatric dental office in Washington, DC, we treat all of our patients like VIPs. Let’s work together to give your child the healthy, beautiful smile they deserve. Schedule a visit at Smile Valley Pediatric Dentistry today!

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