One valiant man asks the ages-old question, “Is it wrong to enjoy eating toothpaste?”

Marty Davidson woke up at 5:30 am on Saturday, April 13th, 1998, in his house just outside of downtown Green Lake, Wisconsin. He got out of bed, as he so often forgets to do, and walked down to what he thought was the kitchen. He grabbed what looked like a tube of cookie dough, which “looked yummy,” and started squirting the goo into his mouth, yelling “Mmm… this is great!”.

And that’s when the trouble started. In his half-asleep state, Davidson had actually stumbled into the bathroom, and the cookie dough was actually King Clean flouride toothpaste.

Davidson’s mother recalls his body’s reaction to the enormous overdose of toothpaste: “Marty shrieked loudly, which I was used to. But then he started coughing. I ran into the room to see what the problem was, and Marty started shouting out the state capitals at the top of his lungs.” The shock of hearing her unemployed, 44 year old son shout words like “Boise” and “Montpelier” caused Luana Davidson to faint and collapse on the floor.

The Davidsons’ ordeal has sparked a great deal of curiosity, as well as turning the heads of some of the politicians on Capitol Hill. They’re suing American Clean Manufacturing, Inc., King Clean’s parent company, for failing to protect consumers from what the suit calls “the dangers of deliberate ingestion of King Clean toothpaste.” Harvey Mattise, the plaintiff’s attorney, explained in a phone conversation to this reporter that “the toothpaste’s packaging only explains to call poison control centers in case of accidental ingestion. What if somebody likes eating toothpaste and gets sick? What then?”

King Clean’s chief legal counsel, F. Brant DeBourche, doesn’t buy the Davidson’s side of the story: “Who in the world eats toothpaste? For God’s sake, gimme a break!” The case goes to trial in three months.

Perhaps the strangest part of the story, however, is the efforts of congressional leaders to make toothpaste eating a requirement for schools to receive federal funds. Marty Davidson may have been shouting out state capitals after eating King Clean, these leaders argue, but he got so many of them right that toothpaste could be the savior of America’s troubled education systems. A bipartisan bill requiring all third-graders in public schools to eat one tube of toothpaste a month has already sailed through the House Education Committee and is expected to be passed by both houses. The White House has made no comment on the toothpaste question, but is unlikely to veto such a popular bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union has unsurprisingly taken a stand against the bill, charging that schools forcing children to eat toothpaste is unconstitutional. Moreover, says ACLU spokeswoman Donna Reidy, “forced toothpaste eating is redundant. We’re already forced to get flouride in our drinking water.” To prove her point, she recited the names of four Midwestern state capitals- Topeka, Lincoln, Lansing and Indianapolis- in front of reporters.

Still, the impact of the Davidsons’ bizarre encounter with toothpaste has yet to be felt in its entirety. As one observer of the case said, “The question we have to ask is: do we really want a society where everybody eats toothpaste?” We may have one sooner than we think.

THE PLAYERS:

KING CLEAN TOOTHPASTE

Slogan: “What, you’d really walk around with your teeth looking like that?”

Strengths: power of flouride protection; household name (not in all households); cute packaging

Weaknesses: warning label only explains what to do in case of accidental ingestion, not deliberate ingestion

MARTY DAVIDSON

Occupation: physical therapist

Strengths: lawsuit is on the money from a technical standpoint; was on CNN’s “Crossfire” to discuss case with Mary Matalin

Weaknesses: thinks toothpaste is “yummy”

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