USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Ostrow gives familiar face a smile-makeover

Photo: Hannah Benet

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf barista James Augspurger is smiling a lot easier these days, thanks to dental work provided at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.


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 exactly 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 (CBTL) at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, directly across the street from the dental school.

Augspurger’s oral health issues were a product of both his genetics as well as his environment. He says 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,” he says.

“When I was about 16, I finally came to USC’s dental school clinic for a full exam through a referral,” says Augspurger, 28, 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.”

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


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

He found himself face-to-face with many Ostrow faculty, staff and students, who would stop by and grab a cup of joe throughout their busy days.

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

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

—James Augspurger

Augspurger began the process of restoring his smile, working with then-Ostrow student 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 says.

“I explained that ultimately though, 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,” he says.

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 says, 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,” he says. “I was feeling very frustrated about that.”

“But really, all it needed was some getting used to,” he concedes. “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!”


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.

He 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 reviewing and blogging about movies. He also works as a bartender at a nightclub in Downey, Calif.

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

—James Augspurger

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 says. “My friend and I are actually working pretty hard on it right now so hopefully that will be next for me,” he says.

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 says. “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.”

This story originally appeared in the TroDent, the official publication for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Read more stories like this in our Summer 2017 issue.



Posted 06192017