I'm going to answer this question from the perspective of your son. I've struggled with soda since high school. I quit for a year only to fall back into it worse than ever during college. I'm still struggling with it out of college.
I definitely drank 1-2 bottles per day (damn those convenient vending machines that took our college meal cards). Being in school made it extremely hard to quit. I was addicted to it enough to where drinking a bottle of soda actually helped me calm down and focus.
Unfortunately, quitting is hard. And honestly, it might not be worth it during this time. Getting a PhD is hard, and this little indulgence is likely helping with stress. But of course we can't forget about the long term problems, so I'd like to focus on ways to control his addiction first, and terminate it later.
One thing I can tell you is that your son has other bad dental habits if he has 13 cavities. Soda is horrible for your teeth, but that's extreme unless he his teeth are naturally prone to problems. He should be able to prevent most cavities without giving up soda, though be aware there's no way to prevent Tooth Enamel Erosion.
I'm not a dentist, but here are ways I've managed my dental health without giving up soda:
- Drink Water. This is extremely important. Water cleans your mouth throughout the day, from both acids and plaque. A re-usable water bottle is nice to have, but if that's not convenient enough, don't hesitate to buy bottled water if that's what it takes to get him to drink it.
- Only drink soda during meals. Food will actually help lessen the amount of contact your teeth endure with sugar, and will reduce the amount of sugar that lingers on the teeth.
- Brush twice a day, no exceptions. Don't brush within 30-60 minutes of drinking pop, though.
- Try to floss once per day, but don't be sad if it turns out to be once per week (that's more than most people). Buying the single-use floss picks and keeping them in plain sight where I brush my teeth helps me actually do it.
- Buy expensive toothpaste. No joke. Cheap toothpaste is a privilege option you get when you take decent care of your teeth. I use Sensodyne myself because I know my teeth take punishment.
- Getting the right amount of calcium can't hurt. I wouldn't jump to drinking a bunch of milk (that's a lot of calories combined with soda). Vitamin D and calcium supplements are an option.
- Get some decent exercise at least once per week. Dental problems aren't the only thing to be concerned about. I found that exercising helped me feel better and lessened my addiction.
- Make sure the problem doesn't get worse. Put a hard limit on soda, even if it has to be 2 bottles per day (I know it sounds ridiculous, but I had that rule once).
- Have him promise that he will take steps to quit once things become less stressful.
- Make him pay for his own dental procedures
Doing these things will make him feel better about his habit without destroying his health. More importantly, it will make him feel in control.
Once he is ready, he can leverage his feeling of control to overcome the addiction. For me, this occurred after I became comfortable in a steady job after school.
Here are some good ways to help the addiction:
- Drink lots of water. More than normal. When I'm actually thirsty is when I crave soda the most.
- Buy smaller serving sizes of soda. Cans are a good option. This makes it easier to limit intake.
- Find an alternative drink and buy it along with normal soda. I used to limit myself to 1 can of soda and 1 can of diet soda per day. (Diet Dr. Pepper is great if he's a Pepsi freak like me).
- Gradually try to switch to just the alternative drink.
- If your son ends up having a roommate or girlfriend, try to find an arrangement where they do the shopping. Once he's switched to solely the alternative drink, have the shopper stop buying regular soda altogether. It's a lot easier to not drink soda if you have to make a special trip for it.
- Have him tell himself it's fine to order a regular soda when eating out (as long as eating out isn't too common for him).
- Eventually, try switching to pure water and enduring it for at least 2 weeks. The urge to drink soda lessens severely once you've quit for a few weeks. Some people will say it completely goes away after a month, but don't get your hopes up for that...
I know this wasn't really a "parenting" answer, but I hope it helps you and your son!
And hey, if he can't quit, don't be too upset. He's an adult and smart enough to know the consequences of continuous soda drinking, including dental health, general health, and financial costs of bad health. If he ends up accepting that tradeoff, that's his decision. Just try to be happy he isn't smoking or doing hard drugs (hopefully).