Journee Woodard smiles after surgery to remove a dangerous tumor that was discovered thanks to a routine trip to the dentist. (Courtesy: Anna Van Ostrand-Woodard)

Journee Woodard's mom almost cancelled the appointment. The herculean task of wrangling four young children to the dentist was sometimes too much for two working parents.

But they made it, and 11-year Journee was the last of the Woodard clan to sit in the dentist chair for her six-month cleaning.

That moment would turn out to be life changing. A week after Journee walked out of the dentist's office in Edmond, Okla., doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor on her pancreas, thanks to a tip from the family's dentist and hygienist.

"The mass had just infiltrated everything," Journee's mother, Anna Van Ostrand-Woodard, told The Washington Post in an interview. "We were told that Journee was one basketball game from this thing rupturing."

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Journee's life-saving dentist visit is one example of the little-known ways that dentists can detect signs of very serious medical conditions. In Journee's case, jaundice in her eyes was the sign that a dangerous tumor was interrupting normal organ function.

Dentists are able to detect a host of ailments in their early stages, including high blood pressure, HIV and diabetes, simply by getting a close look at your face and mouth.

Dental care itself can be life saving -- untreated cavities and rotten teeth can allow deadly bacteria to spread to other parts of the body, causing serious medical problems.

During Journee's Jan. 28 cleaning, it was the dental hygienist who noticed that Journee's eyes were alarmingly yellow.

"She said: 'You know, Journee’s eyes look yellow,'” Journee's dentist, Michael Chandler, told KFOR. “She asked me to take a look, I took a look and said 'that does look abnormal'.”

On Journee's way out, the hygienist urged Van Ostrand-Woodard to take Journee to a doctor immediately.

"She said: 'Her eyes are extremely yellow and that can be something that might be going on internally,'" Van Ostrand-Woodard said. "'I really suggest, as well as Dr. Chandler, that she go see her primary care physician immediately.'"

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The next available appointment was the following Monday, and after a day of blood tests, an ultrasound and an MRI, doctors said the situation was urgent. Journee would need surgery immediately.

(Courtesy: Anna Van Ostrand-Woodard )

She was admitted to the hospital on Friday, Feb. 6, where she finally broke down.

"It was at that point that her emotions really took hold -- she started to cry," her mother said. "She's always the protector, so she always feels like she's got to be strong for everyone else."

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In the weeks leading up to her surgery, Journee didn't report any symptoms to her parents beyond mild nausea and burping, both of which had abated by the time she arrived at the dentist. Later, her family realized that they were easily-missed signs that something was wrong.

The surgery took 10 hours, but less than a week after emerging from the operating room, Journee arrived home Thursday night, much sooner than her doctors expected.

"Journee is doing really well, exceptionally well," said Van Ostrand-Woodard. "Doctors are amazed at her progress. We're amazed at her progress. She's just a strong little girl."

Van Ostrand-Woodard said that the family is overwhelmed by the generosity and support of people in their Oklahoma community and across the country. Donors have contributed more than $20,000 to a fund to cover Journee's medical costs.

As for Chandler, who has been the family's dentist since 2010, Van Ostrand-Woodard joked that they plan to keep him "forever."

"The night before, I was so close to calling, because I was exhausted and I thought 'how are we going to juggle this?'" she said. "We got them all there. And I will never miss another dentist appointment. I will never reschedule."

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