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Barista at USC flashes a winning smile — and the confidence that comes with it

Coffee shop employee is happy to show his teeth because of dental work provided by the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Portrait of barista James Augspurger holding a coffee
James Augspurger had a condition known as hypodontia, which made him self-conscious until he underwent dental work at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. (Photo/Hannah Benet)

Imagine hearing a funny joke, meeting someone new or posing in photos with friends without being able to smile for fear of exposing your less-than-perfect teeth.

That’s just what James Augspurger did for most of his life — a particularly tough feat when you’re an affable, joke-cracking barista who works at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, directly across the street from the dental school.

Augspurger’s oral health issues were a product of his genetics as well as his environment. He said he mostly avoided the dentist’s office while he was growing up.

“Other than cleanings, I would see a dentist maybe once a year because of the amount of work I was told I needed to get done,” Augspurger said.

“When I was about 16, I finally came to USC’s dental school clinic for a full exam through a referral,” said Augspurger, who wouldn’t begin his job on campus for another five years. “I was recommended implants or dentures but was told to wait until my 20s after I stopped growing and my teeth stopped shifting.”

Augspurger was also diagnosed with severe hypodontia, a condition in which up to five permanent teeth fail to develop at all. He said his sister has the condition as well.

Good tip

By the time Augspurger reached his 20s, he had taken a job working as a barista/cashier at The Coffee Bean in the USC School of Cinematic Arts, which opened in 2009.

Augspurger found himself facing many faculty, staff and students from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, who would stop by and grab a cup of joe throughout their busy days.

It was a few dental students that pushed me to come in and get my dental work at the school’s clinic.

James Augspurger

“I made close acquaintances with many of the dental students here,” he said. “In fact, it was a few dental students that pushed me to come in and get my dental work at the school’s clinic.”

Augspurger began the process of restoring his smile, working with Wai Mei Nham ’10, MS ’11, DDS ’15, who provided his treatment with faculty oversight.

Augspurger’s hypodontia case was severe.

“James was missing almost all of his front permanent teeth. So we decided to give him removable partial dentures, which were the best option for him at the time because procedures with his condition are pretty costly,” Nham said.

“I explained that ultimately, he would want to get implants because implants will help the bone stay in place.”

Augspurger saw Nham for a year, fitting in appointments where he could before and after his shifts, until his partial dentures were complete.

“The whole process was really seamless and comfortable with Dr. Nham,” Augspurger said.

Though his appearance had dramatically changed as a result of the dental work, he had a surprising reaction upon seeing his new smile.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but I hated it at first!” he said, explaining that the dentures got in the way of his speech.

“The partial dentures felt weird in my mouth, and I was speaking with a lisp. I was feeling very frustrated about that,” he said.

“But, really, all it needed was some getting used to,” he conceded. “I learned how to speak with them, and people even noticed I wasn’t covering my mouth when I smiled anymore. It was really cool!”

A shot of confidence

Augspurger plans to take Nham’s advice and get the implants when he is able to save enough money for the procedures. In the meantime, he’s enjoying his new smile and the shot of confidence that comes with it.

Augspurger hopes that the confidence might even come in handy in his professional endeavors.

Outside his work as a barista, Augspurger is an avid writer who enjoys writing reviews and blogging about movies. He also works as a bartender at a nightclub in Downey.
But his biggest future endeavor actually hits a little closer to home.

“I want to open a mobile coffee shop with specialty coffees and items,” he said. “My friend and I are actually working pretty hard on it right now so hopefully that will be next for me,” he said.

Augspurger believes the students are as big of a part of his day-to-day routine as he is to theirs.

“We develop friendships with a lot of the customers,” he said. “I have seen people here from day one until their graduation. In fact, when they leave, I never know how to say goodbye.”

Still, he’s grateful to know them while they’re here — especially Nham, who really changed his life.

“I used to be self-conscious, but thanks to her work, I find myself smiling more, and that’s quite a gift.”

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