Braces have come a long way.

Once painful and unattractive, dental braces are not only comfortable to wear these days, they are even fashionable.

And corrective braces are what Dr. Allan Phillips and Dr. Katherine Lambert know best.

Partners in Phillips and Lambert Orthodontics, now in its 35th year, the dentists specialize in orthodontic treatment for children and adults. In other words, they are in the business of improving smiles.

How do they go about this? "We try to use the most advanced technology so people are treated with compassion and accuracy," said Dr. Phillips during a recent interview.

According to Dr. Phillips, the technology has changed enormously over the years. Kids today are having a less painful experience wearing braces because gentle pressure is applied over a longer period of time.

Braces are also smaller, easier to adjust to and easier to keep clean, Dr. Phillips said.

Another big improvement in orthodontic treatment is the way teeth are protected by sealants and fluoride, which makes it easier for patients to care for their teeth while wearing braces.

Recent advancements with colored braces have also made wearing braces a bit more fashionable, especially when colors can be changed during treatment.

Some of his patients adjust the color of their elastics according to holidays, such as wearing red, white and blue for the Fourth of July.

Others sport elastics that honor their school's colors. For instance, patients who attend New Milford High School might choose to wear green and white.

"Kids are involved in the therapy," said Dr. Phillips. "They can't wait to get braces on."

And a lot of kids are wearing braces. In fact, more than 3.5 million children and teens begin orthodontic treatment each year.

Braces are used to correct crooked teeth, teeth that are too crowded or teeth with too much space in between.

They are also used to correct a malocclusion (bad bite) which can range from minor to severe.

Although the end result of orthodontic care is a beautiful smile, there are a wide range of other benefits to wearing braces.

"Properly aligned teeth and jaws promote better gum health, overall dental health, and discourage the early onset of serious dental problems," Dr. Phillips said.

Although the majority of his patients are children and teens, adults comprise 25-35 percent of the practice.

This reflects the general increase in adults who wear braces these days. It is estimated 1.25 million American adults get braces each year.

Dr. Lambert noted orthodontic care has become increasingly important in today's society because people are generally more concerned about appearance.

Yet they are also more health conscious and understand orthodontic treatment would help their teeth last longer.

While some adults need to wear the traditional braces made from stainless steel or a combination of stainless steel/titanium, others have the option of choosing clear braces, made of a durable plastic.

The most popular braces for adults, however, are those that are "invisible."

Invisible braces are removable and not usually recommended for use by teens, said Dr. Lambert, because they must be worn for 23 out of 24 hours, and teens are not always compliant with this requirement.

For adults, however, invisible braces are an easy way to improve their smile without drawing attention to the fact that they are wearing braces.

Dr. Phillips and Dr. Lambert both expressed the satisfaction they feel from providing a positive experience for their patients.

"We provide a service that changes a person's life," Dr. Phillips said. "We help kids feel good about themselves."

And they do this by creating healthier smiles.

Phillips and Lambert Orthodontics has offices in New Milford, Brookfield, Bethel, Ridgefield and Wilton. For more information, visit www.bracesct.com.